Toby has always felt alone. His mother left when he was a young boy, his father is distant, and add that to the fact that he was the only gay kid as well as the only black kid in town, and Toby never felt that he fit in. The one person that saved him was his best friend, Chris, who only cared about being Toby’s friend. Dating for Toby was impossible and anyway his dream guy, Levi, was Chris’ golden boy older brother, who was never particularly nice to them and treated them as kids.
Toby is now in college in San Francisco and he has definitely sampled the night life in a larger city. When Toby comes back home during break, he finds Levi acting out of character, making conversation, and then comes the reveal that Levi is bisexual. A fantasy hook-up with the guy that Toby has worshipped from afar is what Toby thinks is going on, but when Levi visits Toby at school unannounced, life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Levi isn’t as sure of himself as everyone thinks. He’s in his second year of medical school and he’s catering to his father’s wishes. He’s filled with anxiety that his carefully planned future isn’t as secure as he thought and he’s not sure what he wants out of a career. He does know that he wants Toby, but Toby is locked within his own head with walls around his heart, for if no one gets too close than no one can leave. But if Toby can’t find a way to tell Levi how he truly feels, he may just lose him forever.
Sometimes you read a first chapter of a book and get so drawn in that you just know it’s going to be a great experience. This happened here as the writing, characters, and story line came together in that perfect way. I could just pick up the book, read, and stay in the story. It sounds simple enough, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The story itself is a familiar story of a guy not feeling like he belonged and crushing hard on the seemingly unattainable best friend’s older brother, but, it’s what Nyrae Dawn does with her words that makes all of the difference.
The book is told from Toby’s POV and if there ever was a sense to feel what is going on with a character, this is the place. He grew up with his father after his mother left and while he knows his father loves him, their relationship is distant. What saved Toby were Chris and his family that treat Toby as one of their own, well all except Levi.
Levi is shown as the guy that every other guy wanted to be and the guy that all the girls want to date, except Levi played the starring role in all of Toby’s fantasies as well. But looks can be deceiving if you are Levi. Toby could never tell any of this to Chris, because for Chris, Levi never really treated him well and Chris can hardly stand his own brother. Chris feels that Levi has always taken what Chris has wanted and as the story progresses, Toby has that hanging over his head as well of feeling disloyal to the one friend that was always there for him.
Levi has always had it all together or so he thought. His father put more pressure on Levi to succeed and follow in his footsteps, but Levi’s not sure what he wants anymore and he can’t be the guy that doesn’t have his life all figured out and he’s afraid of failing and he’s anxious and unraveling.
The dialogue is age appropriate with the perfect mix of two guys trying to figure out life with a good balance of introspection and just plain having fun with each other that reads like it took no effort at all to pull all of the words together. Toby has all of these thoughts in his head, but can’t put them into words and these two guys make each other better just by being together, only Toby can’t quite grasp what is really going on.
The reveals and revelations were well done as well and it all felt natural and realistic. The issues that both Toby and Levi were going through were intense, but the writing remains soft and quiet. We spend so much time in Toby’s head and if there was anything to comment on at all it would be that I would have preferred a bit more conversational dialogue at times as opposed to so much inner dialogue, but that also remains the point of Toby’s story. I also would have liked to have seen a bit more shown with the Chris situation for as intense as his feelings were about his relationship with his brother and as scared as Toby was of Chris finding out about his relationship with Levi, the follow up was minimal.
For the theme week itself, this one would fall on the periphery of friends-to-lovers as while Toby and Levi have known each other for years, they hadn’t exactly developed their own true friendship due to Chris’ relationship with Levi, but there is a history and familiar bond already in place.
For those that may not be aware, Nyrae Dawn is an alternate pen name for the author Riley Hart where she writes NA and YA themed books. This book was highly enjoyable from beginning to end and in the middle there was Xavier, Toby’s roommate, who made an impression in every scene he was in. This is an excellent choice for a coming of age story that stands out from the rest.