College freshman Jason Tripp hides terrified in a dark theater as a gunman shoots to kill anyone he sees. Jason witnessed his girlfriend Ginny being killed and he is now frozen in panic. Then Jason is protected by Liam Norcross, who drapes himself over Jason and ultimately helps him escape the gunman.
The horrifying experience ends up connecting Jason and Liam in an unexpected way. Liam is able to comfort Jason when no one else can in the aftermath of the shooting. The two become bonded together, and more surprising, attracted to one another even though neither has ever before been interested in men. The reality is not that the guys have turned suddenly gay, but that their emotional feelings for one another are enough to transcend gender. With Liam’s help, Jason begins to move forward from the shooting. The two fall in love and make their feelings for one another public.
But not everyone understands the change in the men or their feelings for one another, and some are even quite unhappy about it. Not to mention that Liam has some pain in his past that compels him to continue acting the hero, something that is hurting him but he that hasn’t been able to deal with. Liam’s comfort, support, and love have been what has helped Jason recover emotionally from the shooting. Now Jason must figure out if he can be the hero that Liam needs in return.
The Art of Hero Worship is a really engaging story that kept me drawn in from beginning to end. It starts by placing us right in the midst of the shooting. We can feel Jason’s terror, the panic of knowing his life is in danger, and the pain at realizing that he was not able to save Ginny. We see how Liam’s protectiveness makes Jason feel safe, first during the shooting and then in the aftermath. As the story continues, we watch the bond grow between them, starting with friendship and then moving to something more.
This story explores two interesting ideas. First, there is the issue of the men’s sexuality. Both have always identified as straight, and even when falling for one another they don’t consider themselves gay. They are in love with each other, attracted to the qualities they see in the other, and their feelings are irrespective of gender. This is an issue that is often explored in m/m romance, but I think it is particularly well done here. Often we get either a lot of hand wringing panic about the idea of unexpected attraction to another man, or else we get such easy acceptance of this total change as to seem unrealistic. In this story, what we get instead is a chance to see self reflection without freak outs. It takes Jason a little time to come to terms with his new feelings, but he also accepts that he loves Liam and that is all that matters. We see the reactions of others, both positive and negative. And we see that ultimately the love between them is the only thing that really ends up being important.
The other main theme in this book is the idea of heroism. Liam has a compulsion to be there for others, to be the rescuer. When it comes to Jason, that is what initially draws them together. Jason feels safe with Liam in a way he doesn’t with anyone else. Liam saves Jason’s life, and his love and care are what gets Jason out of the dark hole he falls into after the shooting. But at the same time, something is clearly haunting Liam, compelling him to need to risk his life for others. So we see this quality as one that brings these men together, but also risks tearing them apart as Liam risks his safety and Jason fears losing the man he has grown to love. I particularly liked the juxtaposition here of the fact that the thing that brings them together and that Jason most needs about Liam is also the thing that is hardest for Jason to accept.
My only small problem here is that I felt like a lot of their relationship hinges on this issue. Liam likes caring for and protecting Jason, and Jason looks to Liam as his rescuer and his support. I wanted to see a little more that showed their connection beyond this issue so I could feel their relationship more strongly than just founded on this one element. At times it seems like this is the main thing that attracts the men to one another, rather than just the foundation that kicks off the larger relationship.
Just as a note to readers, this story obviously deals with a sensitive and traumatic event in the school shooting. We are in Jason’s head as the shooting takes place and we see people being killed. He also loses Ginny, his girlfriend, for whom he cares deeply. It takes Jason time to recover from the ordeal and, while things aren’t incredibly graphic, there are definitely some intense scenes. So just be aware if this is a trigger issue for you in your reading.
Overall I found this story really well done and I loved watching the relationship grow between Jason and Liam. I loved the romantic end between them, but also found the story made me think and explored some interesting themes quite well. I really enjoyed The Art of Hero Worship and would definitely recommend it, especially for readers looking for an interesting take on the Out for You trope.