Life, Some Assembly Required, the second novel in Kaje Harper’s Rebuilding Year series is a slow building run to the top of the roller coaster that is family life. Whether gay, straight, or somewhere in between, adjusting to your partner’s teenage kids and slowly coming out to family members and colleagues is a ride fraught with dangerous curves that can scare you silly and, hopefully, make you stronger. Thankfully in this second story, Harper opted to take the tough road and establish lasting ties for the men she introduced to us in the first book of this well written and gripping series.
The story picks up just as the former ended with Ryan and John living together along with teenage Mark, John’s son. While John never pushes, he stands by Ryan’s decision to keep their relationship quiet, acknowledging to him that he has already told everyone he felt needed to know that he was in love with Ryan. As the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that Ryan is ready to start coming slowly out of the closet himself, beginning with telling his dad. Acceptance comes at a price and Ryan is about to find out that not every member of his family is comfortable with what they view as Ryan’s sexual about face.
At the same time Ryan comes face to face with bigotry and hateful homophobia at a local bar, as well as being told his chosen field of study in med school, pediatric neurology, is not a gay friendly occupation. While his boyfriend is grappling with essentially being blindsided, John is visited by his very pregnant ex-wife and asked to put her up while she attempts to divorce her controlling husband. Those who read the The Rebuilding Year, the first novel in this series, will remember Cynthia as a cheating homophobic harpy who tried to keep John from seeing his children permanently. Thankfully she failed. Now with everything and everyone caving in around them, John and Ryan must fight to keep not only their sanity intact, but their fragile and new relationship alive.
I have remarked before on this author’s laser-like ability to get inside the hearts and minds of the multi-layered characters she creates and, in doing so, make them as real as those who might live right next door. With exceptional skill and incredible pathos, Kaje Harper doesn’t give us “perfect” people. Instead, she unleashes men who grapple with realistic problems, fears, and disappointments. But, she also gives us candid, emotionally packed moments of sheer perfection, particularly when it comes to John and Ryan loving each other despite all the turmoil around them. In her characters’ own words, life is often, “exactly, imperfectly perfect.”
John and Ryan are not compelling to read about because they have some untouched, fairy tale life. They are the embodiment of hard work, sacrifice, and undying commitment to see life through with the person you love beside you. Their story is scary, fluid, raucous, and edgy, but it is also peppered with amazingly beautiful moments of intimacy and raw emotion. Life, Some Assembly Required by Kaje Harper takes us one step further into the hearts and home of two men whose very real struggle to keep their family and themselves together plays out page after page. I highly recommend this glorious novel to you.