K.M. Neuhold is a new author for me and I must say that if the latest release of Face the Music is any indicator of this writer’s ability, then I am hooked. Two boys meet every summer and become fast friends. With each passing year that friendship morphs into something more—an attraction that both scares and excites Lincoln and Jace. As they begin to explore what they mean to each other, a first love blossoms and thrives and future plans are made. Jace will become a doctor with time to do the research he loves and Linc will become a music teacher. Everything is certain until Linc and his three band buddies play a local bar and are discovered. Suddenly the big break Linc has always dreamed of is a reality, but if he pursues it, what will happen to him and Jace?
Knowing how much Jace wants to pursue his career, Linc disappears to pursue rock star success, but it can’t help him escape the demons that haunt him—the sudden black depression that grabs hold of him followed by the soul-crushing feelings of self loathing and thoughts of suicide. Perhaps his drunken dad was right; despite his incredible success, perhaps Linc is a loser after all. Wounded, exhausted, and at odds with his bandmates, Linc decides to return to the place he always loved—the cabin where he and Jace spent so many summers together.
Jace has never gotten over Linc. After realizing he was bisexual and embracing all that meant for him, Jace went on to get his degree and become a successful college professor and Doctor of Epidemiology. But a failed relationship forces him to realize he still hasn’t gotten closure from Linc’s sudden disappearance ten years before, Jace knows he must clear his head and get a grip on his anger and feelings of betrayal. He decides to return to the scene of the crime, hoping the old summer cabin will allow him to finally close the door on a chapter of his life that still haunts him. Little does he ever he imagine seeing the very man who broke his heart and has held it captive for the last decade.
Face the Music explores some fairly dark themes, which include self-harm and suicide, so please be forewarned that if this type of story line could be triggering for you it is best you go into this novel with advanced warning. The scenes of cutting are fairly graphic, never done to titillate or shock, but rather to expose the depth of Linc’s illness and depression. I was so impressed with the way in which Neuhold addressed Linc’s mental health. The story allowed for the reality of what being bipolar would mean for both Linc and Jace and how it would never go away, but be something both men would have to live with if they were to be together.
Told in first person with alternating points of view and flashbacks interspersed, this was a rich and emotional story of first love, first heartbreak, and second chances. The flashbacks were interwoven into the story in such a way as to never break the flow, the transitions being rather seamless and giving the reader a lovely glimpse into how the two boys fell in love and the way in which their relationship matured over the summers spent together. It also gave us a real window into the hell Linc’s home life was and how it shaped the man he became. These two men had to work for their happy ever after and were always mindful of the pitfalls ahead and for that reason alone, I think this novel really stands out as a beautiful story of healing and forgiveness.
Face the Music by K.M. Neuhold explores a love that is battered and tenuous, but rooted in shared intimacy and strength. It’s a lovely romance that will leave lasting impression. It is also the beginning of a series; each subsequent novel will feature another band member. I certainly will be on the lookout for the next one.