Derek and Hunter used to be best friends. They, and their other BFF, Justin, did everything together when they were young. One day, while Justin was sick, Derek and Hunter were watching movies alone when Hunter confessed to Derek he was gay. Derek was fine with that, but then, in the next moment, Hunter kissed Derek. Derek actually kissed back, but then panicked, backed away, and ran out of the house. Their relationship was never the same, and their relationships with Justin changed as well.
Fast forward through high school graduation and well into their college years when both men receive word that Justin has passed away from cancer. It takes them by surprise because they weren’t aware he was ill. At the funeral, Derek and Hunter have no idea how to react to each other. Hunter still hasn’t forgiven Derek for treating him like he had the plague after their kiss, and Derek is still confused…swearing he is straight and moving far away from their home in Ohio.
After the funeral, Justin’s mother gathers them together, along with Justin’s girlfriend, Paige, and Justin’s friend, Jaimie. It seems Justin has requested the four of them go on a road trip of sorts, stopping at places he’s chosen so they can scatter his ashes. Even though it’s uncomfortable, Derek and Hunter agree to go, and the four of them climb into Paige’s car to follow Justin’s instructions.
What follows is a trip where Derek and Hunter begin to face their feelings for each other, as well as remembering Justin and making friends with Paige and Jaimie. Even though he’s gone, Justin has given them all a reason to bond and learn about each other, whether they want to or not. Can Derek and Hunter put aside those long held hurts to be able to come through for Justin, or will they simply go their separate ways once they’ve fulfilled his Justin’s last wish?
Oh you guys…grab your hankies and READ THIS BOOK! I’m not lying when I tell you this is one of the very best books I’ve read in 2018 (and I’ve read some good ones). From the Ashes is full of laughter and tears…both happy and sad. I fell in love with not just Derek and Hunter, but Paige and Jaimie…and even Justin. The author was able to give me the perfect balance of joy and heartbreak, and the heartbreak wasn’t all encompassing. Even though the subject matter–Justin’s death, the friends’ falling out, and Derek’s wealthy, but homophobic, parents–was heavy, I never felt bogged down with angst. The transition from hurt feelings, to happy feelings, to hurt feelings, and finally, wonderful feelings was so seamless. This story flowed from beginning to end. I read it in one sitting over a period of two hours. I didn’t get up once. I didn’t want to leave these characters for even one minute.
I’ll start with Derek and Hunter because they’re essentially the backbone of the story. Derek is in film school with a dream of becoming the next great horror movie director. Hunter wants to be a social worker, counseling LGBTQ teens in the city. I won’t say they’ve forgotten about each other, because that is not even close. There are memories that overwhelm both men…regret, sadness, residual anger. Even though they’re far away from each other, they’re still very much a part of each other’s lives. Neither man is a bad person. They’re what I would consider to be strong, but…is timid the right word? I don’t think so, but they’re very careful people. Friendships don’t come easy for them, and it all boils down to what happened that night they kissed and the fallout. I will call them perfectly imperfect. I wanted to hold them both and tell them everything would turn out alright in the long run.
Even though the romance doesn’t begin until around the final 1/3 of the book, the tension built up slowly, but steadily. Derek and Hunter actually talk. This was refreshing to read because, even though sex is great, the firm base of the relationship was very important in From the Ashes. I mean, sure, the sexual tension was there, and when they finally do break down, the sex scenes were smoking hot, but I didn’t consider that to be the be all/end all of their budding relationship. I just really enjoyed watching them fall because it was beautifully written and actually believable.
Let me talk about Paige and Jaimie for a few moments. They weren’t strangers to each other. They met at the hospital while Paige was visiting Justin. Jaimie was a fellow patient, but their cancer went into remission. By then, they were so close to Justin, their friendship continued. Of course, they were both strangers to Derek and Hunter, but by the time the story ended, the four of them were a wonderful group who were able to grow close. Once again, I found this to be a very enjoyable thing to read. The book is not very long, but within a short period of time, they bonded over their mutual love of Justin. They told stories and laughed and cried. They went to the places Justin sent them, even though some of them might have been outside their comfort zone. One example is Hunter’s extreme fear of heights. Justin wanted the four of them to go to the observation floor of Willis Tower in Chicago. Throughout the elevator ride and walk on the deck, Hunter was terrified, but between Derek, Page, and Jaimie, they were able to coax him out and to open his eyes so he could take in the gorgeous view Justin wanted them to see. It was such a simple thing, but it wound up being moving and sweet.
Now, I don’t want to give away the whole story, but I’d like to tell you about one of my favorite parts. I believe I mentioned Derek, Hunter, and Justin were from Ohio. I myself am from Ohio, so automatically, some extra points were given 🙂 One of the places Justin wanted the four of them to go was Cedar Point, a major amusement park with the tallest and fastest roller coasters in the country. Justin wanted them to scatter some of his ashes from the Magnum Force coaster because:
“Despite other coasters trying to top it, it’s still my favorite, and it’ll also be the easiest to throw stuff off of without getting caught.”
This made me smile and laugh because my favorite coaster at Cedar Point is the Magnum Force. The last time I was there, it was the tallest coaster in the country, and the view from the top (before they sent you careening down the deepest, steepest hill at breakneck speed) is magnificent. You can see over Lake Erie and the sky is this eternal blue. Thanks to my personal knowledge of not only Cedar Point, but the actual coaster, I was actually able to feel the scope of their task, and how they must have felt.
I don’t think I’m telling you too much by saying Derek and Hunter’s relationship does have a bump. Maybe “bump” is the wrong word. It was kind of a big deal. Yes, there was some angst, but that angst didn’t last very long, and it didn’t make me feel despondent or want to skim until the next happy part. In fact, this angst was important to the story as a whole. Clearly, both men need to make some major decisions and decide whether they will be able to stay together. The decisions were the correct ones, though, and Derek and Hunter get their well deserved happily ever after.
The ending of the story and the epilogue were exactly as they should have been. I loved how Paige and Jaimie continued to be part of Derek and Hunter’s lives. I cried again…happy and joyful tears. It was quite literally, perfection. Listen, I cannot recommend From the Ashes enough. It’s a wonderful story with amazing characters, and I can safely say, they will stay with me long after I move on to the next book on my list. Definitely pick this one up!