The year is 1990 and 18-year-old Peter Mandel is starting his senior year at a private school in Knoxville, Tennessee. After being bullied and picked on for being gay, Peter left his public school and is hoping to start over fresh. But Peter doesn’t have a lot of confidence in himself, his appearance, or that much will change in the new school. During new student orientation over the summer, Peter meets the gorgeous Adam Algedi and his twin sister Sarah. Adam is everything Peter feels he is not — worldly, well traveled, gorgeous, and sophisticated. Peter and Sarah have lived all over the world with their parents, but now have moved to Knoxville to live with their older brother while their parents remain in Jordan.
Peter is surprised that Adam has any interest in him, given Peter is skinny, awkward, and doesn’t feel particularly attractive. But Adam is clearly interested in Peter and it doesn’t take long before the two begin a relationship and Peter has both his first romantic and sexual experiences. Peter worries that once school starts and Adam meets other people, he won’t want to have anything to do with Peter anymore. But much to his surprise, Adam continues their friendship and their relationship, though they keep the romantic end of things a secret to avoid outing themselves. With Peter having been bullied in the past, and Adam having his own bad experience with his parents, the guys know that they can’t reveal that they are more than best friends.
It seems like Peter finally has everything he has wanted. He has a gorgeous boyfriend who seems crazy about him and a group of popular friends through his association with Adam and Sarah. But as the year continues, it becomes increasingly hard for Peter to hide his feelings for Adam in public. Especially when Adam decides that in order to keep up appearances, he needs to begin dating a girl, and when Peter gets bullied once again, it reaffirms those beliefs. Peter is devastated at the idea of Adam with someone else, but in order to keep their secret, it seems necessary. And Peter is willing to do just about anything to be with Adam, with whom he has fallen in love.
But it gets harder and harder for Peter to deal with the lying, the secrets, and the cheating. As the year continues, Peter begins to question whether the love he has for Adam is worth the pain he is causing, both to himself and to others. Peter’s world also begins to open up a bit more as he gets a job and begins to meet more people outside his school circle. Now Peter must decide what he really wants out of this relationship with Adam, and whether there is way for them to be together and for him still to be the man he wants to be.
Oh, I just loved this one! Pictures of You had me captivated from start to finish and I can not wait for more in Peter’s journey. This book just feels like an epic tale, one that you can sink into and really enjoy over the course of the series. This book is just the first part of four (the remainder are scheduled to release this year and early next) and so we travel so far with Peter here, but his story isn’t finished. Author Leta Blake calls this the ’90s Coming of Age series and that perfectly describes the story. It follows Peter as he learns about himself and begins to grow and change and really find himself. And with Pictures of You, we take those first steps with him.
This story covers about a year in Peter’s life, from the summer before senior year until right after graduation. Over the course of the book, we see so much change in him. He starts out awkward and shy and uncertain. He has no real confidence in himself or his likeability. He knows he likes guys, but he has no experience dating or even any really close friends. By the end of the story, we can see how much Peter has grown. He has experienced first love, developed real friendships, and more importantly, taken those first steps into figuring out the person he wants to be in life. Blake does a wonderful job showing this awakening, this newly developed sense of self, and it was such a pleasure watching the journey.
As I mentioned, this is book one of four, and the blurb for this guarantees Peter a happy ending by the end of the final book. So while this story certainly ends in a way that left me feeling uplifted and confident in Peter’s future, it does not have a romantic HEA here. Given the way the series is structured, that is to be expected, as Peter is just taking those first steps to finding himself. The story is not a cliffhanger by any means, and it wraps up this current arc nicely, but this book is just the first part of Peter’s overall journey. This series really rests on the strength of Peter’s shoulders and I found him such a great character. I couldn’t help but love him, want the best for him, and feel his pain along with him.
One of the other things makes this story work so well is Adam. I can tell you now, Adam is going to be polarizing. But I actually found that while at times I wanted to scream at him for hurting Peter, I thought he was quite a great character. So as I mentioned, Adam starts dating someone else as a cover for his relationship with Peter. And while Peter knows about it, Adam’s girlfriend does not know about Peter. So clearly Adam is not only cheating on her, but hurting Peter in the process as Peter must bear not only seeing them together and knowing they are having a sexual relationship, but also knowing that Adam truly cares about her. So at times Adam made me crazy, in that he doesn’t seem to always understand why this is all a problem. And obviously Adam is getting the good end of the deal in that he is dating (and in love) with two people. But at the same time, part of me couldn’t help but really like Adam. He is clearly in love with Peter, and his fear for Peter’s safety is palpable, especially when Peter gets bullied for being gay. Not to mention Adam has some good reasons for feeling like he has to hide his sexuality. If Adam didn’t seem so sincere, with such genuine feelings about Peter, I don’t think the story would have worked nearly as well. But he is a young man who makes some bad decisions, often for very good reasons. He is young and sometimes stupid, but he means well and I think knowing Peter was truly loved helped the book really work and emphasized Peter’s own growth.
So this is a story I really loved. I feel like Blake gives us so much to work with here, such a chance to really get to know this great character in Peter and to watch him grow and change. This story is just the first step on his journey, and we are going to have to stick with it to see where he ends up. But I am really loving it so far and the story really made a strong impression on me. I am really excited about this one and can’t wait for more.