The Lunds and the O’Reillys are like night and day. Where Nick Lund has a big, close-knit family, Derek O’Reilly’s is just three people. Nick’s popular with everyone and Derek just sort of drifts along. Nick has wild dreams of escaping their small Canadian town but Derek’s biggest dream was finding a place for himself in Nick’s life. Stranger things have happened.
Winter 1988 finds Nick Lund suddenly noticing his next door neighbor, Derek. Gone is the awkward little boy, replaced with a hot guy with burning red hair and a cut body. Something about Derek calls to Nick in a way Nick can’t understand, but doesn’t want to give up. Getting with Derek, however, would put a serious damper on Nick’s desire to escape his nearly claustrophobic family. Worse, it would mean he’d have to abandon his best friend David, something Nick is loath to do knowing just how horribly David has suffered at home. Nick finds his heart getting pulled in two very different directions, either one would leave permanent scars on his heart.
Derek O’Reilly has worked hard to shed his little-kid image. Lifting weights in the basement has helped him fill out and look more grown up—enough, at least, to catch the attention of his neighbor Nick Lund. Derek knows he’s falling in love with his neighbor, but he wants Nick’s love in return. Having the right look is just element of his overall tactic—and, unfortunately, the only one he can really control. There’s no helping his stutter, which keeps him silent even when Nick begs Derek to talk to him. And there’s no telling just how close Nick and his friend David really are. Derek sees the looks David gives him and those he gives Nick…and even with the new muscles and catching Nick’s attention, Derek’s wary of the history between Nick and David.
Time will tell if Derek is enough to keep Nick satisfied in a small town, or if the siren call of big city Montreal with David in tow will pull Nick and Derek apart.
Okay! First things first: I have intentionally summarized the book to eschew a significant plot device. This same plot device is clearly explained in the blurb available on Amazon, so if you’re interested, you can read up there. I read the blurb when I chose this book to review and now, having read the book, I think I would have liked the book a little MORE if I had walked into it totally blind, NOT having read the blurb and being clued in about said plot device. My summary above and my review below are written in such a way as to avoid any discussion of this should you, dear reader, wish to read the story blind (maybe kind of hard with the blurb available all over the place, but *shrugs*).
Second things second: this is the second Mel Bossa story I’ve reviewed. The first one didn’t do much for me (Owner of A Lonely Heart) and when I realized this story was by the same author, I sort of prepared myself to be a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps that allowed me to enjoy the story more, or maybe this is just a better developed story…but for whatever reason, I really liked this book.
First and foremost, I like how absorbing the characters are. They drive the action in the plot and give great dimension to the episodes in their lives. For example, there’s the generic contrast between the Lund and the O’Reilly family—the former being a big, happy family and the latter being a fractured one with a physically distant/absent father figure and an emotionally cut off/near manipulative mother figure. Each family unit itself, though, is also shades of happy and sad. From Derek’s point of view, the Lunds are a great big loving family (mostly), but from Nick’s perspective, there is some bad blood between himself and his mother. This is because Nick is severely dyslexic, but his mother believes Nick just doesn’t try hard enough. And despite the almost estrangement between each member of the O’Reilly family, Derek does seem to love or at least appreciate his mother, even if he has a hard time liking her—especially when we see her start to realize her son is gay and wants him to pray it away.
The events in the story are typical for teenagers. We see David sneaking out to pursue his heart’s desire: dancing. David and Derek have a sort of friendly rivalry over Nick’s affection. While Derek is worried David and Nick are more than friends, he still wants to learn more about David, to help David cope with his horrible home life. David, on the other hand, is clearly threatened by Derek even as he admits how attractive Derek’s grown. Eventually, though, David and Derek figure out how they fit in each other’s and Nick’s life and a fragile friendship is formed. They go clubbing and they support Nick when he strikes out on his own at a local restaurant.
I found the romance that grows between Nick and Derek to be both intense and sweet. I liked that sometimes it was easy to read between the lines and understand what the characters were doing and what they were saying. I like that other times, I couldn’t understand why Derek couldn’t just say something when Nick wanted him to or why, before Nick/Derek got firmly established, Nick would hesitate into inaction. For me, it was clear these two fall into an almost desperate relationship with one another—courtesy perhaps of teenage angst. Nick seems sort of aloof and he’s clearly a bad boy type of character, so it was a lot of fun to see him loose his cool around Derek. I also loved how Derek is portrayed. We know he’s grown up and grown hot, but Derek himself isn’t full of himself…just tired of having been sort of a skinny little kid previously.
As for the resolution, that ties directly into the plot device I mentioned above so I choose not to comment on the content. BUT I will comment on the style of the conclusion. I liked how Mel Bossa ends where the story begins, literally copying and pasting the epilogue right into the end of the book. I also appreciated that this mirroring did not just end with a quick and dirty summary of how things wrapped up, but included a couple more chapters after the fact. My copy of the e-book also included a big chunk of the sequel that follows this story, which is great if you want to continue following the Nick/Derek saga.
Finally, I did not realize this book was actually a sequel to Bossa’s book Split. That said, I felt like I lost myself in the Nick/Derek drama almost immediately so this book seems to work well as a standalone.