Rating: 3.75 stars
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Sam Hayward is in trouble. Six months ago, Sam told his parents a small white lie. He told them he had a boyfriend. A tall, dark, handsome boyfriend who happened to be an artist, a well-known artist. A rich and famous artist, all so his parents would leave him alone. He’d left home to get away from the crushing weight of their concerns for him, of their plans for him, and by having a rich boyfriend he was not only taken care of, but well taken care of.
Only… it’s family reunion time and his parents want to meet the mystery man in Sam’s life.
Ben Matheny is a tall, dark, and handsome artist — a photographer — with a bad case of unrequited love. He has a crush on the handsome barista at the Press Room, only he hasn’t found the courage to do anything about it other than quietly moon over Sam and take pictures. Every day for, oh, a year now?
But Faith and Peter, along with anyone with a pair of eyes, can see the two of them, Sam and Ben, sigh wistfully, blush charmingly, and fumble cluelessly when they interact with each other. It’s Faith, of course, who has the charming suggestion that Sam take Ben home with him. After all, he isn’t doing anything at the moment, and it’s only for a weekend…
No, no nefarious plans in Faith’s head at all. When she learns from Sam that his fake boyfriend was based off of Ben, it all seems to be even more perfect. They can get to know one another! Spend hours in the car together on the drive and maybe, maybe — if either of them will get their heads on straight — do something about the sparks flying between them.
On the way to the reunion, Ben learns that not only is Sam from a well-to-do family, he’s from a family so well-to-do that they have a summer estate, a yacht, horses, and a wine cellar you could get lost in. For Ben, who comes from a lower middle class family, it’s a lot to take in, and Sam isn’t helping any by brushing it off. Sam’s never cared about money; in fact, he spent a year estranged from his family as he tried to run away from the money. But it’s more than just the money. It’s also the lies that keep tripping them up, and the big one that ends up catching Ben flat-footed and leaves him broken hearted. Will their relationship end before it has a chance to begin?
Sam is annoying. That’s not a bad thing, strangely enough. You can want to shake someone and still think they’re a decent character… and yes, I wanted to shake Sam a few times. Sam can brush off money when he’s living off a trust fund, able to take a job just because he likes it, drives a new car, has a nice apartment, and knows that he’ll never really want for anything. He seems to view his family wealth as some great burden, but… it’s a joke with no punchline. Sam’s family seems decent enough, for the little we see of them, and while Sam’s behavior towards them hints at a backstory, it isn’t reflected by anyone else save for a few token mentions of his sister’s husband, Matias, not being welcomed with open arms. Sam hints that it might have had to do with his lack of riches and wealth, but we have to keep in mind that Sam is a very unreliable and heavily biased narrator.
Ben is in a similar situation, viewing Sam’s family — and Sam — through rose colored glasses. He’s had a crush on Sam, is intimidated by the family mansion, but is taken by Sam’s grandmother, nieces, nephews… pretty much the whole family. His own issues come to a head, though, when he confesses to Sam that one of his past lovers tried to ‘improve him.’ To fix what was wrong with him by elevating his conversation, changing how he dressed, and treating Ben more like a pet than a person. When he learns that Sam built this mystery boyfriend on him, he’s flattered and a little uncertain, and when it comes out that Sam’s imaginary Ben is not only famous but rich, it hits Ben in a very tender spot and he makes it clear to Sam that he’s done playing and wants to go home. Now.
And this is where my problems with the book started. Ben is acting like this whole thing was set up to hurt him when he knew — from the beginning — that he was taking the place of a made up person! Yes, it was based on him and what little Sam knew of him through is coffee order and occasional conversation, but it wasn’t as if Ben walked into this as Sam’s actual boyfriend who Sam had lied about. Ben was playing a part and ended up taking things too seriously. Ben overreacted, and while I can see why, it felt a bit too contrived. True, the book needed some conflict in lieu of an antagonist or villain, but this just didn’t work for me. Ben took it personally — and I understand why he did — but it lacked a bit of common sense. Ben was playing a part loosely based on himself, but it was still a part in a play. He thought that Sam was saying he wasn’t good enough to be his real boyfriend, and I can see why he thought that, but that’s like Victor Price being upset when someone didn’t like his characterization of Dracula.
The pain is real and justified, but the reaction was a bit extreme. It also turned Sam’s reaction to Ben’s reaction up to eleven as he all but wrung his hands and wailed about how he’d hurt Ben. The best part of the kerfluffle were the supporting cast. Faith, hearing Sam’s story, had to admit that Ben was being a bit unfair while Joel, Ben’s friend who’d had a lover cheat on him, took Ben’s pain into account and reacted with his own bias on Ben’s behalf.
Now, while I found the big fight to be over the top, it wasn’t badly done. Each character (over)reacted in very real and natural ways, and while I wanted to shake both of them into some sense of rationality every now and then, I found the resolution between them to be both fair and in character. Never once did Ben or Sam act like anyone other than themselves and they talked about the situation like adults. I loathe the ‘why won’t they talk to each other’ trope. I loathe it so much. So, when characters who are supposed to be adults act like adults, even if it is a bit heavy on the emotional drama, and deal with what hurt them and why and accept that the person standing across from them can make mistakes and still be worth caring for, they get points from me.
This was a mixed review from me because it left me with mixed feelings. The writing was good, the pacing was good, but the plot and lackluster world building left me on the fence. I never got a sense of Sam’s family, of why he felt the way he did towards them, or what his relationship with his parents truly was. Ben was good, Sam was blase, and Joel and Faith seemed like good friends.
If you like stories about awkward first kisses, charmingly clueless couples, and happy endings, this might be the book for you. But be prepared for the drama, the angst, and emotional confessions.