Kelly O’Connor is desperately trying to convince the rest of the world that he has everything under control. He’s graduating soon, his grades are strong, and he’s an incredibly capable RA. But on the inside Kelly is crumbling. Both of his parents have been dead less than a year, he’s under pressure from the rest of his family to sell his childhood home, and the only way Kelly can sleep is with alcohol or dangerous hook-ups.
Ian Larkin doesn’t date students. It’s a hard and fast rule that he has no intention of breaking. But then he finds Kelly, in over his head and playing a game that could get him hurt. Ian only means to help Kelly out of a bad situation, but he finds himself drawn to the bratty, wounded man. Theirs is far from an easy romance, but as Kelly learns to trust Ian, he finally begins to address his grief. But when a miscommunication leads to an unintentional hurt, Ian and Kelly must find a way to forgive and begin again.
Against the Rules was a thoroughly rewarding book whose emotions run the gambit from sweet to angst, but never tips the balance on either. The book reads evenly and the pacing is strong. The plot never lags and while there are occasional story points that seem rather unnecessary, they don’t drag down the natural ebb and flow of the action. Given the low-key nature of the story, Against the Rules moves very quickly, which just highlights how engaging the main characters are. Or rather character because this book is really about Kelly’s journey.
I found it impossible not to connect with Kelly from page one. His pain and frantic need to maintain some measure of control in his life are palpable. Despite outward appearances, he’s clearly falling apart. His behaviors have spiraled beyond risky as he starts playing without limits or safe words and with partners who clearly have no interest in his well-being. Ian is an excellent match for him and capable of drawing out Kelly’s submission without leaving the man beaten and broken. The readers understand Kelly on multiple levels, which makes his gradual acceptance of Ian all the more enjoyable. But for as relatable as Kelly becomes, Ian seems equally as distant. I never felt like I related with his character despite really wanting to. We know he’s had his fair share of rough patches, but they are never explained as completely as Kelly’s. And that meant, while I like Ian, he comes off as more of a surface character rather than fully formed. Had he equaled Kelly in scope and definition, their romance would have achieved an incredible intensity. As it was, they work, but I felt as though there was a little something missing from their dynamic.
My only other quibble is about an event that occurred at the end of the book. I won’t give spoilers except to say t it concerns Ian’s career. I found it both unnecessary and predictable. The incident wasn’t critical to the story and felt wedged in by force. It’s the only time during Against the Rules where I was left frustrated by the plot.
Overall Against the Rules was a sweet romance, layered with a heavy dose of angst that works on most levels. Kelly is definitely the stronger of the two characters and while I would have preferred that Ian had a bit more depth, their relationship pays off. Despite a few niggles with the plot and one big niggle at the end, Against the Rules kept me eagerly turning the page. Consider Against the Rules recommended.