It is the summer before college and 18-year-old Nick Stahlnecker is nowhere near ready for his adult life to start. He doesn’t understand how some people just know what they want to do with their lives and are eager to move forward into adulthood. Nick is still struggling and confused about his future and totally panicked about moving on to college. The one thing he does know is that he has a huge crush on 25-year-old Jai Hazenbrook, Nick’s coworker at the construction job he has for the summer.
Jai has always wanted out of his small town, and as soon as he was old enough he began spending most of the year traveling the world, returning home for the summers only to make some money so he can leave again. Jai knows Nick has a crush on him, and Jai thinks Nick is pretty cute, but he is definitely surprised when Nick offers to blow him in the porta-potty.
Though the fallout is bad, Jai is intrigued enough to continue spending time with Nick and the two begin a casual friends-with-benefits arrangement. It is never meant to be anything more — Nick has college in the fall and Jai will be in Argentina. Neither man expects feelings to grow between them, but before they know it, there is more than just hooking up going on here. As the end of the summer approaches, Nick is facing panic about leaving for college, Jai is preparing to leave town again, and both guys realize that they may not be ready for things to end between them.
Adulting 101 is one of the best coming of age, young love romances I have read in a long time. Seriously, I just adored Nick and it is pretty much impossible not to. He is basically terrified at the idea of growing up. Not because he is immature necessarily (though there is a bit of that too), but just because he feels totally unprepared for his future. It seems like everyone else is confident and knows what to do with their lives and what they want to be, and Nick is still floundering. Yet the weeks are rushing by and he is supposed to just go on to college and just KNOW and he is panicked about it. He is also goofy and geeky and sometimes a little childish, but also earnest and sweet and really truly trying, even when he doesn’t always succeed. It is to Henry’s credit that she makes Nick so likable, so relatable, when he could have been frustrating and irritating. But instead I found myself charmed by him and empathizing with him for his fears and uncertainties.
The story is told in present tense, and although we get dual POVs here, it feels most solidly Nick’s story. At the same time, Henry really rounds things out by making Jai such a well developed character as well. Again, Nick is such the focus that Jai could have easily become lost, just the object for Nick to rotate around. But instead we learn about Jai’s background, how he choose travel as a means of escape from the pain of his father’s death, and see how he had his own coming of age struggles and now has come out the other side as a solid, grounded adult (albeit one who is still willing to be blown in a porta-potty at work). I just loved these guys together. There is a great sweet/sexy balance between them. Accidental exhibitionism becomes a recurring theme, and we get to follow along as Nick has his first sexual experiences, but at the same time there is a tenderness here and a sense of two people who just connect in an unexpected way.
I’ll also add that the story is hysterical. I had many laugh out loud moments, and if you have read other of Lisa Henry’s more lighthearted works, you will know that she is great at writing humor and a bit of silliness, while still grounding a story in some real depth. In particular, Nick’s relationship with his best friend Devon is a source of much entertainment. The guys are basically platonic boyfriends, best friends who live in each other’s pockets and share a brain. They are both so very *18* that watching them interact is just adorable and amusing. At times I felt they were a touch unrealistic in their openness of emotions (not sure how many 18-year-old guys say “I love you” to their friends and cuddle together in bed), but still, you can’t help but love them. I enjoyed Jai’s family as well, and they make for some funny moments as Jai’s old teacher makes an unexpected appearance during yet another ill-timed blow job.
I wish I could better capture the tone of the story in this review, but the style here is so engaging and really makes the book. I am not sure I am doing it justice, but I just loved every minute of this story and couldn’t put it down. Adulting 101 so perfectly captures that point of your life when you are just teetering on adulthood, just making that transition into what for many is an unexpectedly scary place. In this story we are lucky enough to follow along with Nick as he makes the first steps into that journey and figures out how to move forward with Jai at his side. I just loved this one and highly recommend it.