Ben is returning to school after taking some time off to undergo hormone therapy and top surgery. He is happy to be back, but very nervous too. Ben mostly kept to himself the first time around at school, and he is determined to be more social this time and make more friends. He is starting over in the romance department too, as he hasn’t dated anyone since his transition, and he is looking forward to the chance to meet someone. None of his roommates know he is trans, however, and though they are all gay or bi, Ben still worries how they will react when they find out. And he is even more wary about how potential partners will feel about him being trans.
Fortunately for Ben, his housemates are all friendly, outgoing guys and include them in their fun. Ben starts to socialize more, and even meets Sid, one of his housemate’s friends. The two click immediately, but Ben finds himself too scared when Sid makes his interest known. He is terrified of being hurt if Sid rejects him for being trans. But finally Ben lets down his guard and takes a chance with Sid. Sid turns out to be open and accepting and the guys slowly begin to build something serious between them. Ben is living out his dream of finding friends and a boyfriend who accept him for who he is, but he can’t help the doubts and fears that still trouble him. Now Ben must learn to trust in Sid and their relationship before he lets his fears ruin what they have built.
Starting from Scratch is the fifth book in Jay Northcote’s Housemates series. The books center around a group of students living in a shared house, each featuring a new couple and essentially standing alone. However, many of the characters recur in each other’s books to varying degrees. In this case, Ben lives with many of the characters from previous books and all of them appear to some extent in this story, with Mac, Jez, Shawn, and Jude featuring most prominently (some may remember Sid from Watching and Wanting as Jude’s former friends-with-benefits). So while reading the other books in the series is definitely not required, I think you would get more out of this book if you are familiar with at least some of the other stories.
Although this story is told in dual POV, it is largely Ben’s journey as he is coming back to school and sort of starting things over on many fronts: new body, new friends, and new relationship. He is eager for a fresh start, but also so scared. He worries people will reject him when they learn the truth. But at the same time, he so badly wants to find friends who accept him that he struggles with that conflict. Northcote does a great job showing Ben’s fears and insecurities as he slowly begins to trust in Sid and his friends. I particularly enjoyed watching the relationship develop between the men as Sid is just so open and accepting that we see the thrill Ben experiences when he realizes Sid wants him exactly how he is. At the same time, Ben’s fears don’t go away overnight. He also suffers from some dysphoria about his body, still not fully reconciled with the fact that he doesn’t look exactly how he would like, and has occasional bouts of jealously that he doesn’t have the body of a cis man. So it all feels very real as we see Ben’s ups and downs. But the story is still so positive overall, and I love the tentative ways these guys open up to one another. Despite Ben’s initial apprehension though, it doesn’t take long before things are hot and heavy between them and things are definitely steamy here and in keeping with the heat level of the rest of the series.
So I really enjoyed this one and was completely caught up in Sid and Ben’s relationship. I loved revisiting with many of the characters from earlier in the series and at the same time I am enjoying that Northcote manages to keep the series fresh as he introduces new housemates. So Starting from Scratch is another great installment in a series that I think continues to improve as it goes along.
P.S. I love this cover. Gorgeous image and I love the nod to Ben’s surgery with the chest scars.