Henry Appleby is a high school graduate with a college acceptance to NYU. He has grown up in Evanston, IL, the nearest north suburb to kiss Chicago’s border, in an affluent neighborhood and living a privileged life. He is set to intern at his overbearing father’s wealth management company for the summer, yet, what Henry hungers to do is work in a restaurant. And, get a boyfriend. He’s not sure if the fumbling attempt with his best friend will lead to anything more.
Knowing it is unacceptable, but needing to satisfy his keen desire, Henry takes the train into Chicago to inquire about a job at a neighborhood trattoria, Fiorello’s. There Henry finds the warmth and care he lacks in his own sterile home. His mother is a socialite with little interest in him personally, and his strongest connection is to his family’s cook/housekeeper, Maxine. Maxine would love Fiorello’s, Henry thinks, and he submits his application. The owner, Rosalie, doesn’t take him seriously, however, believing that he’d only stay the summer when she needs stable workers. Still, she takes a chance on Henry—hiring him. If he thought his dad was peeved after Henry turned down his internship, that ain’t nothing compared to what happens when he learns Henry’s gay.
This is the second book I’ve read from this author, and I was just as charmed as before with his characters and the lush setting descriptions. As a native Chicagoan I could see my hometown in the pages, with startling clarity. I, too, sweated along with Henry on sultry walks and sweating ‘L’ rides. I’ve had his same sun-baked feet too exhausted to go forward. I haven’t had his sudden lack of home and family, but Henry never squawks. He’s determined to make his life his own, even when the convenience he’s had growing up is suddenly yanked away.
Henry takes pleasure working near Vito, the large and largely-silent executive chef at Fiorello’s. Vito tells a bit of this story and his piece is tragic. One car wreck stole his husband and child away, and he’s not ready to open up, especially not to the blonde man-child, Henry. Still, Vito is not entirely dead inside and he makes some decisions that help Henry just when Henry needs it. I was torn with Vito, both sympathetic and frustrated, because he’s so determined to stay in his miserable little shell, and lashes out at times. Knowing both sides of the story I just want him to comfort Henry and let himself be comforted, and I got frustrated when he didn’t. Then again, I was overjoyed when he did.
Henry is such a kind and tender young man. He’s hurt, and hurt, and hurt again by the people who should love him, and yet he’s indefatigable and honorable and wonderful. Even when Vito is mean, Henry shows up to work and takes on any and every challenge laid before him. There are a few sexytimes, but they are understated and at times awkward—which is in keeping with the scene and emotional progression of the story. Henry feels he is continually used by his partners, and to some extent he is right, which meant those encounters were bittersweet. Plus, Henry is witness to more than one infidelity in the relationships that surround him, and it’s a lot to absorb on top of his own personal issues. He really grows up a lot in this post high-school summer. The wrap up of this story is so freaking HEA I think I cried a little.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.