Noah Huxley is a brand new parole officer and he is coming at the job determined to do good. Noah knows most of his co-workers are jaded from the endless paperwork and ex-cons who never seem to improve, but Noah believes the best in people and wants to help folks get back on their feet and make a new life for themselves. When Noah meets CJ Davis, he sees just the kind of man he thinks he can help.
CJ is a good man who is trying to make a better life for himself, but the odds are stacked against him. He grew up with an incredibly abusive father who has been in jail more than out. He never learned to read, is caring for a sick and elderly relative, and is just barely making ends meet financially. CJ saves what he can and what his father doesn’t manage to sell or steal. One mistake left CJ serving a suspended sentence, though he is now only weeks from ending his parole.
CJ has never had anyone really care about him beyond his Pops and his boss, so when Noah starts reaching out and trying to help, at first CJ is resistant. Noah wants CJ to get a real mechanic’s license, to learn to read, to get a driver’s license, all things that could make a real difference in his life. And slowly, with Noah’s encouragement, CJ begins to believe that he can really do these things, that he can really change his life. The men are drawn to one another, but they know that until Noah is officially off parole, nothing can really happen between them. But that doesn’t stop the men from building a friendship and an incredible bond of trust. Nor does it stop the fire that burns between them.
CJ is finally reaching the point where he can have the life he has dreamed about — a secure job, money to help care for Pops, learning to read, and most importantly, someone who truly loves and cares for him. But with his father home on parole, life at his house is out of control, and it could put everything he is building at risk.
I am a huge N.R. Walker fan, but somehow I had never gotten around to reading On Davis Row, so International Week of our Reading Challenge Month seemed like a great time to pick it up. As with all of Walker’s books, there is a well developed sense of place here and a nice Aussie feel. Walker really paints a wonderful picture of life in the small, run down town where CJ has been trapped all his life. He lives at the end of a road known as Davis Row, named so because the Davis family has lived there for years and they are all looked down upon by the rest of town (in most cases for good reason as CJs brothers and father all spend more time in jail than out). We can really feel the desolation of the dying town and how isolated CJ feels there with no support system and virtually no one who cares about him.
I’ll admit this one started a little slow for me and it took me a little bit to get into the flow of the story. But once I did, I just loved this book. There is a slow burn here in the sense that for much of the story, Noah is still CJ’s corrections officer and officially they can not be in a relationship. What happens is that these guys basically are platonic boyfriends, as it is clear that they have built a strong emotional connection. Walker does an amazing job developing the chemistry between them, and as the guys are counting down days until they can finally be together physically, I found myself eagerly turning pages and anticipating the moment they can finally act on their feelings for one another. The connection between these guys is so lovely, as Noah really takes the time to understand CJ in a way no one else does. This is a man who has lived his life in the shadows, with no one really noticing or caring about him. And so watching Noah really see CJ and care about him is so rewarding.
Walker also does a great job painting a picture of what CJ’s life is like. His father has been abusing him forever, they are barely making ends meet, and what he does manage save or buy, his father ends up stealing. We can just feel his desperation, but at the same time, CJ is strong and determined to build his life and take care of Pops. There is a really poignant scene where CJ and Noah go shopping and Noah tries to imagine what it is like being unable to read. He goes through the store, trying to figure out how he would know what to buy, and it really gave me a feel for what CJ must be going through. I could really feel for CJ as he struggles against seemingly impossible odds, yet he never loses his sense of goodness and caring for others.
So I really enjoyed this story, and once I got into it, I was just swept away. I loved the romance between Noah and CJ and found this one a really rewarding story.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for International Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack of some of our favorite International Books. 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 International Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.