Owen is a young, closeted man living at home with is bigoted father, vengeful stepmother, and no good stepbrother. He works a retail job and takes classes at a local college. The one bright spot in Owen’s less than happy life is his best friend, Andy. Andy’s out and proud, and he wants Owen to be as happy as he is.
One night, Andy introduces Owen to his (allegedly) straight cousin, Jack, and they hit it off. Things begin to look up for Owen…until everything comes crashing down.
Fast forward 20 (or a little more) years. Owen owns and runs a comic book shop with faithful employees and unwavering support from Andy. Still, Owen’s life is almost as empty as it was when he was 19. He’s still devastated over his losses, but he’s surviving…until his past comes back.
What’s going to happen when Owen finally takes control of his own life and destiny?
I really enjoy Reading Challenge Month, especially if I get to read a new author. I’ve never read any books by Michael Bailey. So checkmark that requirement for New-to-Me Author Week. What cemented my choice of the book for this week’s challenge was the idea of a two decade time jump, where Owen, Andy, and the others start out as young adults and wind up being in their 40s by the end. I was very impressed at how well the author accomplished this without leaving me feeling dizzy and confused.
Now that I’ve told you about the time jump, it’s time for me to tell you something else…and please don’t be afraid of it, ok? Looking Forward ripped out my heart, stomped on it, threw it in a fire, and took the ashes to a swamp to be fed to alligators. I cried big, ugly tears and wailed so much, it woke my husband. I had to put the Kindle down for an hour or so in order to collect my thoughts, put on my big girl panties, and dive back in.
As I said, don’t be afraid of the tears and angst because Looking Forward is a well written, carefully plotted, character-driven story that, even through my heartache, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Owen was just so sad. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and whisper that everything would be alright despite his cruel family and other things (I’m not giving anything away if I can help it). I’d also tell him to cling to Andy at all costs because Andy will be the one constant in his life whom he can count on.
It was lovely watching Owen fall in love with Jack. I could feel the warmth he was feeling every time he spoke or texted with him. Owen didn’t smile often until Jack came along, and he relished in it. Even though he was still deeply closeted out of fear of his family, Owen was looking ahead to a brighter future when everything went to hell. Right here, at this point, I want to tell you every single detail of what exactly did happen. I just can’t. It’s a very important part of the book and I believe you have to experience it yourself. I will tell you to have your tissues ready…maybe a comfy blanket and a teddy bear as well.
In the blurb, I mentioned Owen’s past coming back…and come back it does. His store is finally making some profit. He’s got some great employees who are also friends…very protective friends. He and Andy meet at least once a week for dinner. Life isn’t perfect, but it’s decent. Decent until someone returns to town and expects things to just pick up where it ended. This did not please me, and it certainly didn’t please Andy. Andy had been the one to pick up Owen’s broken pieces 20 years ago and he can’t allow himself to do it again. This is also a very important part of the story. The tears ended and were replaced with anger and a sense of dread. You could see what was coming a mile away, but that’s not a bad thing. It made me feel a bit anxious, but I just knew Owen’s Happily Ever After was within reach, and I couldn’t want to read it.
Obviously, Owen and Andy are the major characters in this story, but there are a few others of note. Jack, Andy’s cousin and Owen’s first love; Meghan, Andy’s sister; Owen’s family (horrible people!); David and Greg, employees at Owen’s comic book store; and Jace, Jack’s son. Each plays an important role in the story, but they don’t get in the way.
The ending was well written and satisfying. I expected it, but it was still amazing when I got the big payoff. It was the only way it could have wrapped up and I was extremely pleased. Owen deserved some happiness after everything he’d gone through, and it was obvious he finally got it. I got it too. I highly recommend this book. I mean it. It’s worth the tears and the anxiety. Definitely pick it up.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for New-To-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of six $20 gift cards to NineStar Press. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a Kindle Fire filled with Dreamspun Desires/Beyond books, plus a 3-month subscription!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on New-To-Me Author Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.