Will Madden survived a childhood of neglect and sexual abuse, and is slowly finding his way with the help of therapy and social workers. But it has been only a few years since he was rescued from a horrifying situation and, at age 19, Will is still healing slowly. The abuse has left him with PTSD, anxieties, an eating disorder, and a major sense of lacking self worth. Will can’t fully function on his own and lives in a halfway house where they help him learn to be independent.
Will is determined to get himself together and start meeting people and living more in the real world, and he has made some forays into making new friends by participating in a chat room. There he met Taz, another PTSD sufferer. In college, Taz was the victim of a homophobic attack and has facial scars as a result. He is very self conscious about his appearance and doesn’t leave his house much, mostly surviving with the help of his father who handles most of Taz’s needs out in the world. But like Will, Taz is determined to try and take steps to make friends and broaden his life.
When Will and Taz take a chance on meeting one another in person, it is terrifying for both of them. Neither man is used to interacting with strangers, being out in public, or handling crowds. But when they manage to work up the nerve to get together, they both finally find someone who totally gets them. Their shared traumatic backgrounds and difficulty with public interactions helps each man to really understand the other in a way few other people do. Taz and Will become friends, spending all their time together. And as they get to know each other better, each man begins to heal a bit more and to gain more confidence. Will begins to feel more self worth and become less terrified being around other people. And Taz starts to worry less about his scars and have fewer fears about people seeing him. The men take things slowly and carefully, but soon they begin to fall for one another, and have a romantic and sexual relationship as well.
However, demons from Will’s past are resurfacing and threaten the fragile stability has has been building. And Taz has a secret that he is keeping, one that he fears may have implications for his relationship with Will. Now that the men are finally finding some hope and happiness, they must hope that their relationship and their strength they have build together can handle the challenges.
As I Am is the third book in A.M. Arthur’s All Saint’s series. This one is actually only loosely connected to the first two in the series, mostly by the overlap of one scene, and can easily be read without the others. Interestingly, characters from some of Arthur’s other books (including all the Belonging books and two of the Restoration series) do show up here and having not read those, I found it a little hard to keep up with everyone. There is a sense that there is more going on with each of these couples than what we can learn here, and at times it was a bit tricky keeping track of everyone. But overall, I think this one works as a standalone and would be enhanced if you are familiar with the other series.
This story is the most intense of the All Saint’s series so far. Will and Taz both have suffered some physical trauma that has left them with severe emotional scars (and in Taz’s case, physical ones too). Will, in particular, has a horrific past, one that was often hard to read about. The fact that he is functional at all is a miracle of strength, will, and some wonderful therapy. Both of these men have major anxieties, panic attacks, fear of strangers, stress in public, etc, that make it very difficult to function out in the world. Arthur does a really wonderful job developing this characters and helping us to understand the challenges they are facing. It is really rewarding to see both of these men take steps forward into not only finding friendship and companionship with each other, but also to being more comfortable out in the world. The pace of the relationship moves slowly, as makes sense for these men. But I loved seeing them grow and bloom through their connection to one another.
I did find myself at times frustrated with how quickly Taz and Will jump to the worst possible conclusions. On one hand, I totally get it. These guys are both suffering from a lot of emotional baggage that makes it hard to trust in other people or believe they are worthy of love and friendship. But this is a long book and there are so many times that something happens and the men immediately misread the situation and get upset and are sure the other is thinking horrible things, and at times I found it kind of frustrating to read about. I also found the story ultimately relies on a coincidence so unlikely as to be virtually impossible to believe, and for me it took some of the punch out of some of the issues these guys face because it seemed just so incredibly unlikely.
All that said, I did enjoy this story and seeing these men with so many hard times finally find friendship and love together. It isn’t always an easy read, but it is a rewarding one. Arthur does a great job of really developing Taz and Will and letting us share in their growth and their happiness.