After being thrown out of his house as a teen when he came out to his parents, Marc Villegas finally has his life together. He spent years on the street and used drugs, sold his body, and did whatever it took to survive. But now he is drug free and runs a homeless shelter for LGBT kids, hoping to spare some of them what he went through.
One day Marc is approached by the sister of his former best friend, Anthony Romano. The men haven’t seen each other since Marc got kicked out eight years ago, and Marc learns that Anthony is a now drug addict who once again relapsed and is out on the streets. Marc and Anthony’s sister manage to track him down, and Marc brings Anthony home in hopes of helping him get sober.
Both men had feelings for one another as teens, and those feelings are still incredibly strong now. But Marc knows getting involved with an addict is dangerous to his own sobriety, and he is determined not to start anything with Anthony until he can prove that this time he will stay off drugs for good. Anthony wants to be with Marc badly, however, so Marc agrees that if Anthony can stay clean for six months, he will give a relationship between the two of them a chance. Both men know that if things don’t work out, it will be miserable for both of them. But even though getting sober is the hardest thing he has ever done, Anthony is determined to prove to Marc that he can stay off drugs and that they two of them can have a real future together.
Say it Right is the second book in A.M. Arthur’s All Saints series. We first met Marc in Come What May as Tate’s best friend and the co-founder of the shelter the two run together. Although this story could stand alone pretty well, I think it is richer being more familiar with the side characters who appear here and having some background on Marc through his friendship with Tate.
The main focus of this story is on exploring the issues of drug addiction and recovery. Both men spent time on the streets addicted to drugs (though Anthony left home when he got hooked on drugs, while Marc was kicked out). Marc is farther along his journey to recovery, so he has the experience of making it through getting clean and coming out the other end, while Anthony is right in the middle of the struggle. Arthur does a really nice job showing what Anthony goes through to detox and ultimately to stay clean. It is not an easy process, physically or mentally, and I think Arthur really gives us a good sense of his struggle. The story also addresses what life is like on the streets, both for our main characters, but also for a number of side characters as well. Between Marc’s friends and the kids in the shelter, most of these folks have had rough pasts and they provide a lot of support to one another. I could really feel for Anthony, and Arthur makes him sympathetic, but at the same time lets us see him really take control of his life and accept responsibility for his actions.
The guys stay true to Marc’s original promise and keep things strictly as friends for six months. They were best friends before, and are pretty much platonic boyfriends through the book until the six-month mark. They live together and are clearly in love with one another, but they keep the relationship as friends officially until Anthony proves he can stay clean. The chemistry between the guys is intense, but we don’t see them actually get together until most of the way through the book, as the story is primarily focused on Antony’s period of recovery. I’ll admit I did wish I could see them together as a couple earlier in the story, but I also think it helps for us to see how hard Anthony is working to get sober and make a real life for himself.
One aspect I struggled with a bit was feeling confident that Anthony’s sobriety wasn’t totally tied to his relationship with Marc. This is addressed in the book, but it is mostly focused on whether Anthony is only attracted to Marc, or whether he could be interested in other men (Anthony has never come out before this point). This is supposed to show that he can be independent of Marc, but although it shows his attraction isn’t exclusive to Marc, it doesn’t show he is stable on his own. Anthony goes from living on the streets to living with Marc. All of his friends are Marc’s, all of his social life involves Marc, and when Marc isn’t around, Anthony doesn’t really go out. Even his job comes from a connection through Marc’s friends. And the driving force that keeps Anthony sober early on is knowing Marc will date him after six months. So I honestly didn’t feel secure in the sense that without Marc, Anthony would be able to maintain his sobriety and I wish this had been addressed a little more thoroughly.
There is also a conflict at the end of the book when Marc gets violent with Anthony and I felt a little uncomfortable with how this was addressed. Marc’s dad is abusive and when Marc is dealing with a stressful situation, he lashes out by first shoving and then hitting Anthony (though there is indication the punch was an instinctive response to being startled). Although Marc feels really bad, there is a little too much sweeping this under the rug for my liking. Even if the punch was instinct, the shove was not, and he got too much of a pass for me to be fully satisfied with how this resolved.
Overall, however, I am really enjoying this series and think Arthur does a nice job tackling some tough issues. The books have a particular focus on LGBT homelessness, a truly serious issue, but also deal with addiction, recovery, and people who have painful pasts. I think Arthur really explores these things well and it makes the series both thought provoking and really interesting. So I am enjoying this one and looking forward to more.