All throughout his school years, Troy suffered at the hands of his vicious classmates. Their bullying was borderline criminal and the complacency demonstrated by anyone who might have ended the misery left Troy unwilling, unable to trust anyone. Even as an adult, he takes more solace in being alone. The scant few times he’s dared to venture into romantic waters never really took root because, well, Troy is convinced he is not attractive enough, not confident enough, just plain not good enough.
That is until he makes a chance acquaintance with Adam, the friend of an ex-boyfriend. A former athlete now working as a tattoo artist, Adam has two key qualities that both thrill and intimidate Troy: size and body modification. Adam, however, is more like a gentle giant with a huge heart just waiting for the right person to come along—and hopefully soon. He is drawn to Troy from the get-to and eager to get to know the man.
Despite a rocky start, the two randomly bump into one another at a coffee shop and end up hitting it off. When a date is finally secured, Troy is almost too afraid to believe a stunning man like Adam could seriously entertain any interest in Troy. Ultimately, mutual interest isn’t enough to keep Troy from panicking and turning tail after that first real date.
When they eventually reconnect, Adam is determined to give it one last shot—to prove how good they can be together. After making a real connection, Troy is finally ready to give Adam a chance. But will it be enough when outside forces seem determined to test their convictions?
The story unfolds through alternating first-person perspective from both Troy and Adam. Which, to me, means the reader ought to be privy to all the deepest, darkest secrets and insecurities of both characters. On the plus side, we do get up close and personal with the hellish abuse Troy suffered through in school. That backstory goes a long way to justifying how skittish Troy acts. The bullying itself is nothing short of drastic, and we only get a few brief glimpses at what happened. My only beef about these flashbacks is that, well, the felt a bit—under researched? I find it hard to imagine any school setting could be blind to the kinds of “extracurriculars” visited upon Troy and then take no action to mitigate the situation. So that aspect of the story feels weak to me, but at least it’s a clear connection between Troy’s past and his present.
With Adam, his past is all cryptic references. I found this somewhat annoying because his chapters are told in first person the same as Troy’s. I really couldn’t figure out why his past needed to be such a huge secret —especially considering how little it affected the action in the story. In fact, though some of these events seem to have a big effect on him, it’s pithily described on page, so that was a bit of a let down. Adam is also the one is adamant he and Troy can be “good together,” but I found little in his narration to substantiate why he feels this way—beyond a few comments about how he’s pushing 40, so it’s now or never. That and instalove never sat well with me as the basis for starting a relationship, but maybe that’s just me.
Heart takes great pains to include a vast supporting cast. Given the amazing diversity among them (twins who fall in love with each other, a touring rock star and the single working parent he dates, another tattoo artist, a chain-smoking sister, an overbearing mother, vacuous office colleagues), they should have added something special to the mix. Instead, I could never keep anyone’s name properly matched up to their identity (except the twins who were referred to by their first initials and one of whom had been Troy’s last attempt at romance). The twincest line gets a tiny smudge of on-page exploration—I can’t imagine why, but I’m not really complaining. Still, when everyone else is just sort of there because going drinking with “friends “ requires more than the two MCs, it’s pretty clear the friends our MCs have are more like set decoration.
The prose isn’t particularly inspired and there are a few grammar mistakes that send up red flags for me (page one spells “ablutions” as “absolutions,” for example) and some odd turns of phrase. That said, Heart does a passable job giving our two main characters individual tones and voices. Troy is definitely the stronger of the two in this regard. His headspace is clearly colored by his traumatic childhood/school years and his decisions are constantly, demonstrably influenced by this. He dresses a certain way because he’s insecure about his physical appearance; he is dedicated to work because people are not worth the effort 99 times out of 100, and so on. Adam feels a lot “fuzzier,” again due at least in part to the fact that even when ADAM is narrating, we’re not given the same flashbacks to great moments from his hockey days or get to feel how he feels like less because he can’t continue it the way he wants. Still, he is nothing if not determined to prove he and Troy can be good together. He might fail a modified Bechdel test where he’s got to talk about something other than Troy even when they’re on the rocks, but what do you expect?
If you don’t read too deeply into the story or the characters’ motives, this is a mediocre hurt-comfort kind of story with a few bits that some may find squicky (twincest and bullying). Troy is a passable sympathetic character who is clearly shaped by past abuses. You’ll get to watch him tentatively overcome his issues with the help of a determined, steady Adam. I thought the effort to make Adam stay a mysterious character worked against the story primarily because it’s told in first person from HIS perspective half the time, but the semi-artificial tension was fun to read. And it’s got a HEA ending that ties up the Troy/Adam story cleanly.