Archie Corrigan is rich, privileged, resentful, and now, very confused. He is sent off to a summer camp because he has lost a bet with his distant and famous father. Archie loves to dance and when he is turned down by his top pick of dance schools, he grudgingly makes good on the wager with his dad and follows his twin sister to Camp Crystal Cove where the activities are geared toward giving upper class kids a chance to find themselves and figure out what their future interests may be. Instead, Archie discovers the latest action adventure film being produced on site and one of the actors in particular, heartthrob Landon Summers.
Landon is an Australian import to the acting world. Now in America for over a year filming his first feature role in a movie, he is also very homesick. Raised in a large, caring family, Landon knows the money he earns from acting has helped his mum and dad immensely so despite his misgivings that he is any good, he keeps plowing along. It doesn’t help that he has also been made to have a pretend relationship with his female costar for the sake of publicizing the film. It’s not that Landon doesn’t like girls—in fact, he is bisexual, but it’s having to hide the knowledge that he likes both sexes that has him disturbed. Everything about him seems fake—even his screen name.
While Landon struggles along trying to find his acting groove, he comes in contact with one of the campers the cast is encouraged to mingle with on their off time and he is immediately attracted. So is Archie—but wait, there is no way Archie can be gay—none whatsoever. If he is gay, that means all the stereotypes, the bullying, the snide remarks he has endured over the years is true—after all, male ballet dancers aren’t all gay—at least he isn’t. But why then does he get so tongue-tied around Landon Summers? And why did he return that kiss?
S.M. James creates the perfect setting for a coming out story with the release of That Feeling When. Not only a love story, but also a novel keen on exploring the idea of discovering who you really are and realizing that you must push back at not only society’s preconceived notions about being gay, but also your own. Archie struggles with his fear about being gay, not just because he worries it will make his already distant feeling parents angry, but also because he can’t endure adding to what he perceives as their growing disappointment in him and his lack of focus over a future career path. He doesn’t want to take on the family business and follow in his father’s footsteps, but he also knows that dance may not be the career he hopes it could be.
Being rejected by his first choice in dance schools still smarts and when he arrives at camp, he is already determined to be miserable. Then he sees Landon Summers and his belly does this strange flip flop thing and then he accidentally kisses the guy back and then runs—as fast as he can away from the idea that he may be gay. Archie is aces at running from himself and often simply loses himself in his music until he can cope with all the conflicting feelings inside. This time the conflict is a living, breathing, gorgeous, kind, sweet boy—and Archie is doomed.
As the author carefully creates scenario after scenario that brings these two young men together, we are privy to all the thoughts, concerns, and dreams that make them tick. We feel for Landon as he yearns for home and the loving care of his mum and siblings. We feel the pressure he puts on himself and his career choices due to his knowing it is his acting success that will help his struggling family with the financial stability they so desperately need. We begin to understand the loneliness he has when the cameras are off and he must continue acting as someone he truly isn’t. Being with Archie provides the few moments in Landon’s day where he can be himself and it’s no wonder he falls for the shy young man fairly quickly. But Archie is truly afraid—he is so confused about his sexuality and so worried he will mess it all up.
That Feeling When is a beautiful story of coming out and coming of age. It is a self-discovery that many can relate too and a carefully constructed romance that doesn’t get ahead of itself by creating fairy tale-like solutions to very real problems. I really enjoyed this novel and the few minor glitches such as what Landon’s actual age was and the fairly unresolved feelings of conflict between Archie and his dad can’t keep me from saying that this is a novel many will find common ground with and enjoy reading.