Danny Lucerno is a dive instructor in Hawai’i, living with his two adopted fathers and three adopted brothers (a fourth brother is away in college). At 19, Danny is ready and waiting for his life to begin. It seems like all his prayers are answered when he meets Paolo Bastini, a sophisticated older man who seems instantly smitten with Danny’s dark good looks.
It takes only one night together before Paolo is ready to whisk Danny off to Vegas with him to live the high life in hotels and casinos, eating out for every meal, and going to a new party every night. It’s enough to turn anyone’s head. When it’s finally time for Danny to go home, Paolo is so heart-broken, weeping and begging Danny to stay… and then texting him, calling him daily. I miss you, I love you, come back to me!
Back at home, Danny’s adopted brother Zane is having troubles of his own. Severely deaf and a talented dancer, he’s having trouble finding a partner able to help take him to the next level. It doesn’t help that Zane is flamboyantly gay and a cross-dresser. Favoring colorful dresses, jewelry, and makeup, he’s been bullied not only for his handicap, but also for his appearance. When he’s around Zane, Danny can’t help but feel protective… and a little something more. Where Paolo leaves him going from emotional heights to emotional lows, Zane is a calming influence, much like the ocean itself.
But no matter how much Danny loves his family, his heart keeps telling him to return to Paolo. Danny’s fathers and brothers aren’t keen on Paolo, or the way he treats Danny. The way he seeks to control the younger man, that no matter how unhappy Danny seems about a given situation it’s always Paolo who gets his way. But what can they do other than remind Danny that they love him and will always be there for him?
Paolo is mourning a lost love, taking drugs, drinking everything in sight and taking women and other men to bed — often encouraging Danny to join him in all these vices. But Danny would rather spend his evenings texting and chatting with Zane online. Zane who keeps creeping into his thoughts. Zane, who knows how much Danny misses Hawai’i and home.
There are several issues I have with this story. But we’ll start with the best part of the book, the characters. While we see the POV of Danny’s fathers, it’s Paolo, Danny, and Zane the story revolves around.
The author does a skilled job of unfolding the story and backstory of the characters, I don’t want to give away too much information, but there are several things to reflect on when it comes to Danny and his decisions. When we meet Danny, we’re meeting a young man who has only recently turned 19, who was thrown out of his home for being gay and then adopted by a loving couple of men. He’s been hurt and he’s young, and young men are prone to rebelling against authority. Unfortunately, the last time Danny rebelled he lost everything, which makes it more understandable why he might be so willing to obey Paolo in every little thing, even when he doesn’t want to. After all, he doesn’t want Paolo to leave him, to abandon him like his father did. Also, while Danny is no fool, he’s also made of 90% hormones. How do you say no to your first real lover who only wants to give you everything you’ve ever wanted? Watching Danny deal with these conflicting issues feels very much like we’re reading about a real person, not some made up character. I believe in Danny Lucerno, even if I think he’s a foolish kid. He’s a very good protagonist who manages to be completely himself.
Then there’s Paolo. Paolo is a creep with a capital “C”. He’s a 40-something (almost 50) man who knowingly goes after someone less than half his age. Once he figures out how best to manipulate Danny into doing what he wants, he gleefully exploits the young man as much as he can. It’s nice to see an antagonist start slow. You can believe that there’s honest affection between them, and that — while he’s shamelessly manipulating Danny — he’s not just using him. I mean, he is using him, but sometimes there’s an honest fondness and regard for his young boy-toy.
We never see Zane’s POV, so we must use Zane’s actions and words against him. Or for him. Something like that. Zane is a sweet kid who has struggled under the burden of being hearing impared. He can speak, but his speech is clumsy. He is self-conscious about it and his hearing aids, but these are things he’s lived with all his life. He’s often checking to make sure Danny isn’t making fun of him when he brings him presents, hinting at a time when his Danny might not have been so blase about having a cross-dresser for an adopted brother. But once he gets past that he opens up like a flower. He also makes a tearful confession to Danny about why he and his boyfriend have broken up, about how he was told he wasn’t a good kisser.
While the scene may have been written out to showcase Zane’s innocence, I have to wonder if any 18-year old would be that innocent while sitting half-naked next to someone they had an immense crush on. Personally, reading the actions as well as the dialogue, I think Zane had more in mind than just getting a friendly shoulder out of that conversation.
The characters are fully realized people and the antagonist works well for much of the book as what he is, a foil for Danny to prove himself against. To learn maturity and to decide which head he’ll be thinking with, and what sort of relationship he wants in the future. One that’s mostly physical pleasure, or one with a greater emotional weight?
But. Then there’s the rest of the book.
The writing is first person: I did, I thought, I said. It’s not a style I’m personally fond of, but it’s one that can work very well in certain books and stories. I don’t think it worked well here. It lent the story a very juvenile feel. The writing was clumsy and exposed two of my most disliked flaws in writing: Infodumps and “tell not show.”
Exposition is done to give the reader information they might not otherwise be able to gain through the story. To fill in the surroundings of a story, like how two characters met in a previous book, or how someone came to be in a certain location. There are three times the exposition is handled well in this book. There are also numerous time it’s nothing but an infodump. When Danny is taken to France by Paolo, they stop by a jasmine growing facility to look over flowers and oils for a shipment for Paolo’s company. We are treated to a lengthy entry about jasmine. About how it’s picked, how the oils are extracted, and how many, many uses jasmine has.
It feels like someone fell down the wikipedia hole and thought they show us some interesting trivia they found while down there. It happens in Vegas, as well, where a great list of the monuments is given to us in a way that feels like more than building a feel for the skyline of the city or the flavor of it.
It’s a common phrase in writing, “show, don’t tell.” Unfortunately, in this book, over and over we’re given scenes where we are actually told that two characters had a conversation about something fairly important, like when Rob and Danny’s birth father are having an argument, and that’s it. In first person, as the conversation is happening, as we’re reading it, Rob tells us that “we had a talk about it.” He and Danny’s father had a conversation about Danny and then moved on. It was annoying, time-wasting, and kind of offensive to have the first person POV character tell you the conversation between he and someone else is going to happen, did happen, and now he’s moving on to something else. It happens over and over. Arguments are given a sentence to let us know they happened, but they never actually show up in the story. It cheapened parts of the book, especially important, emotional scenes when all I saw was a line telling me that two characters had talked. Off-screen where no one could see and everything was alright, now.
With all that said, this isn’t a bad book. Danny and Zane come across as two genuine young men who make foolish decisions because that’s what young men tend to do. Paolo, while not a nice person, comes across as a three-dimensional character for much of the book, and Rob, Danny’s adopted father, truly seems devoted to his family. His scenes with Danny, in particular, were well-done.
All in all it’s a nice summer read with a happily ever after ending. If you take a chance on this book, I hope you enjoy it.