Kaje Harper has just released yet another wonderful story, Fair Isn’t Life. While I am convinced this author is best when writing her longer novels, this slightly shorter book really hits it out of the park in so many ways. From the sweet romance of two young men, to the healing and hopeful future of one who has been broken down, we get a taste of what it means to be a farmer today in a society that often forgets who the hard working men and women are behind the marketplace abundance we take for granted.
All his life, Luke Lafontaine has wanted to farm. His love for the cows he raises from birth makes the little sacrifices he has endured worth it—until the bottom falls out of his world. His father should never have gotten sick and certainly not have passed away, but as both happen, Luke watches the family farm bleed out and the debts mount. When the realization hits and the farm is put on the auction block, Luke can’t handle it and runs, starting a new life in the city. Unfortunately, he has no real work skills, zero money, and no idea how he’s going to survive. After losing his cleaning job, Luke lands a short stint picking up trash at the Minnesota State fair where he avoids going into the livestock barns simply because it is just too painful to see the life he once lived and loved.
Mason Bell is in college and loving his life. He has good friends, gets to play his clarinet in the school’s marching band, and is living out and proud. Marching in the fair parade is bound to be fun as usual, until he sees a familiar face in the crowds. Mason remembers Luke, not only because he tutored him in math during high school, but because he also harbored a crush for the strapping blond boy. But what is Luke doing picking up trash at the fair and how can Mason get the quiet, shy farm boy to open up and maybe, just maybe go on a date with him?
Fair Isn’t Life is both a coming out/first love novel and one of recovery from a loss that has left one young man hanging by a thread, both emotionally and physically. Luke has never recovered from what he feels is his failure to keep hold of the family farm. Now he can barely keep himself fed and the future is bleaker than ever. When he sees Mason, he experiences a riot of intense feelings that span the spectrum from shame to lust. The author cleverly makes Mason both bumbling, at times, and incredibly perceptive at others. Mason learns over his encounters with Luke how to avoid making assumptions, such as the idea that Mason should have a working phone with ample data or that he has actually eaten a full meal that day. Both of these things, plus a myriad of others that Mason takes for granted, are far from the life Luke now leads. It’s this journey of discovery and empathy that makes Mason such a lovely character to learn about and know.
However, it’s poor Luke who will tug at your heartstrings. His loss and struggles are so very realistic. Since I myself married a dairy farm boy, this novel rang with such authenticity for me and I readily understood the life that Luke once led and now grieved over. It was rather lovely how these two boys taught each other so many things. Mason showed Luke that wanting to submit sexually didn’t mean he was weak. That wearing a bit of makeup and even maybe cross dressing occasionally was actually sexy and absolutely acceptable. More importantly, Mason encouraged Luke to confront the past and make a grab for a future that would mean happiness for him. On the flip side, Luke showed Mason how often he took for granted the life he was given. He taught Mason to be more sensitive and caring. Theirs was a really sweet romance, which weathered a few bumps along the way and grew stronger each time.
Fair Isn’t Life is perhaps one of the most hopeful romances I have read in quite some time. It takes the time to reflect on just how often we forget to look below the surface and actually see the real person beneath. The novel remarks on the importance of never taking for granted just how fragile life is and how important it is to make each moment count. It’s a lovely story and one I think many will enjoy.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.