Eight years ago, Anthony Downing’s brother Aaron was kidnapped, raped, and tortured. From that point on, Anthony became an invisible child, forgotten while his parents focused on Aaron’s fragile emotional health. Now, days away from graduating high school, Anthony is a mess himself: a recovering drug addict, in love with his best friend who treats him like shit, and still lonely and ignored by his family. When Anthony gets an offer to visit an online friend for the summer, he decides to pack up his life and head out to Detroit. Along the way, Anthony’s plans get derailed and he ends up meeting Brendon and Patrick Mears.
Two years ago Brendon suffered his own tragedy as his liquor store was robbed and both he and his father were shot. Now Bren can’t leave his house and spends most of his days drunk and alone. His brother Patrick returned home to help Brendon, planning to return to his life once Brendon was ready to take back over the store. But it has been two years and Brendon is still not emotionally recovered, and now Patrick is stuck in a life he never wanted but can not even consider leaving.
When Patrick finds Anthony stranded in their parking lot, he can’t help but want to protect and care for the young man. Slowly, with Patrick’s help, Anthony begins to get back on his feet and start to figure out his life. He meets Brendan, and the two make a connection despite both of their troubled pasts. Anthony starts to make friends and begin to imagine a life and a future for himself. But when something Anthony trusted turns out to be a lie, he finds he needs to support of Brendon, Patrick, and even his family to make it through.
Anthony is the fourth book in J.P. Barnaby’s wonderful and powerful Survivor Stories series. Aaron is the first book in the series and there we see Anthony’s world from Aaron’s point of view. Aaron has been shattered by his abduction, abuse, and near murder, as well as the murder of his best friend. He is an emotional mess and his mother is his savior, working tirelessly to help Aaron in his recovery. It is an incredibly intense and fabulous story, one of my favorites by Barnaby. But here she has done something really fascinating, and given us the perspective of Aaron’s younger brother and how the situation has affected him growing up in Aaron’s shadow. Anthony was basically moved into the basement and forgotten about as his parents focused on Aaron. He began drinking, got addicted to drugs, and essentially felt invisible and if no one cared about him. So now we catch up with Anthony as he is about to graduate high school and looking for a connection, someone to care about him and love him.
This story is also interesting because while the romance is between Anthony and Brendan, the book is really about the couple along with Brendon’s brother Patrick. All three get major page time and are POV characters, which is unusual for a romance, but it really works here. In the brothers we see both sides of Anthony’s story. Patrick, like Anthony, has had his life turned upside down by a tragedy that befell his brother. Patrick had his own life out of state and returned home to help Brendan, thinking it was only a short time before his brother took back over their liquor store and Patrick returned to his old life. Instead he is finding that Brendan is nowhere near ready to return to his life, and may never be, and that means Patrick must do what needs to be done to make sure Brendan is emotionally cared for, even at his own expense. Just like Anthony, Patrick’s life and desires come in second to his brother. At the same time, Anthony can understand Brendan, a man who was forever changed by an act of violence that has left him emotionally fragile and unable to function, just like Aaron. So being with these brothers gives Anthony both someone to relate to, as well as a sense of perspective from both sides of the situation. It is incredibly well done and such a clever way to present the story.
Anthony and Brendan’s relationship builds slowly over the course of the book. Though they get physical pretty fast, the emotional side of things goes slowly as befits two guys with some pretty intense emotional issues. I found I really liked both of these guys together and appreciated how their support of one another helped them, but also isn’t a miracle cure. I did find the push from friendship to love seemed to feel kind of rushed toward the end of the story. We see them get to be good friends, and we know they are hooking up off page, but they felt pretty suddenly serious and in love when we never saw much of it happen. I just need a little more time with it all on page. In fact, I wished the last 10% of the book had been spread out much more as it feels like so many key moments happen very quickly after the rest of the story moving at a much more ambling pace.
Overall I found this a very fitting end to a wonderful series. Although both these guys have some pretty intense issues and this is certainly not a light and fluffy book, it isn’t as dark as the earlier books in the series. While you could probably read it as a standalone, I really thing this is such a stellar series that it would be a shame to miss the earlier books, so definitely start with Aaron if you haven’t read it. In the end, Barnaby has tied this series up well, giving us the happy ending for the characters we have grown to love and pulling everything together really nicely.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.