This contemporary romance is an ensemble story that revolves around three main characters: Dane, Truman, and Seth. Dane carries the bulk of the story. He’s a long-time English teacher in his small hometown of Summitville, in southeastern Ohio along the Ohio River. This community is somewhat sheltered in terms of progressive ideas and acceptance of homosexuality. Truman is a slightly-built, effeminate freshman who has no friends and is the whipping boy of all and sundry; his entire life has been plagued by bullying. Seth is a veteran teacher who joins the faculty in the new year.
The beginning of the story is the first day of school, which brings Dane and Truman together briefly. Truman is humiliated and harassed at an all-school assembly and Dane pulls him out of the gymnasium and arranges for him to leave school early. Dane is struck by Truman’s *perhaps* poor choice of clothing—clearly advertising that he’s gay. He laments the cruelty of kids, and silently acknowledges that any urges he’d had in that direction, i.e. homosexuality, were safely quelled in his youth. He’s a happily married man of twenty years with two kids, after all. At the end of the day, however, Dane’s phone rings with terrible news—he a widower. He struggles with grief and relief, in that he’s always known his sexuality, but never succumbed to temptation to express it. As a single man, he might-could now.
We advance to the new year, where Seth has relocated to Summitville to escape his feelings of failure and frustration after the end of his own relationship. He’s immediately drawn to Dane, who is the physical embodiment of Seth’s deepest desires. The second day of the new term is a really bad day, however. Truman, who has been harassed the entire fall term, arrives to find that he’s the butt of a really nasty “joke,” and it’s his final straw. Dane and Seth both get involved to help avert tragedy. This intense moment brings all three of these characters into each others’ lives.
I really loved the tenderness of this book. All three of the characters have difficult circumstances to overcome, and they learn a lot from their connection. Dane is nervous about being out, and Seth smoothes his fears. It’s not easy, as his daughter is particularly angry about her father’s “deception.” Truman has a lot of emotional issues that he needs to shed in order to love himself, and Seth is instrumental in giving him some of those tools. Dane tries, but, having never lived as a gay man, he has nearly as much to learn as Truman. Being part of Dane’s POV in those moments was so poignant, with him wanting to be helpful, and being just the opposite.
Truman is an absolute treasure, and the close relationship he has with his young, single mother is beautiful. I adored Patsy, and how devoted she was to Truman—embracing him with unfettered love. How Truman returned to school—embracing all those traits for which he’d been habitually ridiculed—was fierce and fabulous in a way that was almost storybook-ish, but Seth and Dane help breaking the waves of derision. This becomes a turning point for both Dane and Truman. It was so lovely to see the beat down of homophobic sentiment in the face of sheer courage.
The pace of the book is excellent, with concentrated bits of time that touch all the important moments. We don’t spend a lot of time mucking around in the tragedies, just dealing with the harshest moments and their direct aftermath. As the school year winds on, it’s clear that these three men have the worst behind them. While this story has significant tragedy, it has bigger love. The blossoming relationship between Dane and Seth is so fun, in all its awkwardness. Don’t expect much steam, however. That said, each man is strong and lovely and his story is told with sympathy and empathy. Expect every one of them to have a satisfactory resolution that includes an HEA.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.