Francis Murphy is a homeless 21-year-old gay man who makes his money as a prostitute. He’s essentially starving and sneaks into a Bible study at nearby Grace and Light Church in order to scam some baked goods. There he meets Randy Wright, son of the new pastor. Randy’s honest and forthright, and tries to befriend Francis.
Later, when Francis has been attacked by one of his johns, he ends up at Grace and Light, where he receives shelter from Pastor Wright’s family. Over the course of his recuperation, Francis is uncomfortable with the level of kindness he experiences—these strangers treat him better than his own drug-addict mother ever did. He can’t help feeling attracted to Randy, and that’s a new, and unwelcome, sensation. While Francis sells sex all the time, he’s rarely ever attracted to his johns, even his regulars. Randy’s innocence is so foreign, and his compassion is unheard of. He arranges for Francis to work with the church, cleaning up the homeless shelter he’d stayed at many a night, which had recently been closed due to fire.
The longer Francis stays, the more he notices Randy noticing him. And, Mrs. Wright sees it too. She’s not terribly subtle, in Francis’ mind, at pushing Randy toward a female congregant. It’s this pressure that alerts Randy to the budding questions in his mind. Randy attempts to get Francis to help him explore his newly-fluid sexuality. Francis wants to, but refuses, afraid that the Wrights will kick him out of their home if he and Randy begin a physical relationship.
This book was a little bit of a miss for me. I struggled to connect with the characters, and part of that was my lack of belief regarding Francis. His paltry back story left me with too many questions. Despite having been homeless his whole life, he lacks any mannerisms of a homeless man. He has no satchel with his essential items, no street companions, no regular haunts for sleeping. His mother was a meth addict from his birth. That doesn’t make much sense, as crystal meth has barely been on the drug scene for that long. There’s a million and one social supports for homeless children and drug-addict mothers. Even if his mother studiously avoided every single one, how had they survived on the street, literally, for 20 years? Given the way his character was written, I expected a harder, savvier man. I’ve read quite a few books with a hustler MC, and Francis is the least touched by his hardship. He seems really disconnected and disaffected, which is noted by his fellow characters. I know it didn’t endear me. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, I simply didn’t bond with him.
The themes of forgiveness, tolerance, and overcoming prejudice are big in the book. I think the pace of the story might have been a little rushed, which was why some of these felt a little heavy-handed on the application. On the up side, the religious aspects were all handled positively, and reading a book with an LGBT-inclusive church was interesting, with realistic levels of friction from some of the members. I personally live in a town with several churches that proudly welcome gay parishoners, so I’m happy to see it reflected in fiction.
I liked the Wrights, all of them. They are good people, preaching tolerance to an elderly and initially unwilling congregation. They are, in fact, really happy people, who seek to act out their Christian principles in their daily lives. Francis is not the first homeless person they’ve helped, and they want to see him safely settled, however that can be arranged. That said, they are also human, and make some missteps. Randy’s potty-mouth kinda got to me, I must say. And, he’s a guy with nearly zero filter, so he says a lot of stupid stuff, for which he is in constant apology. Randy’s parents aren’t best pleased when they learn of Randy’s sexual confusion. They do make it right—ha!—and the end is an HEA.