Story Rating: 4 stars
Audio Rating: 4.5 stars
Narrator: Iggy Toma
Length: 9 hours, 4 minutes
Being a single father in a new place, the last few months of Nate Ellison’s life have been focused on taking care of his baby son, Neil, and trying to stay positive after his wife Olivia’s abandonment. When he forms a friendship with An “Andrew” Hoang, the pediatrician who lives three doors down, the connection Nate feels with the calm and giving An is both fascinating and confusing. An is very honest about his attraction to Nate, but the limbo of Nate’s married status and inexperience with men makes him unwilling to be more than friends. However, as the months pass, and as Nate, Neil, An, and An’s niece, Diane, spend their weekends together exploring and building a close unit, Nate decides to take a chance for more with An. When Nate and An are forced to confront the complexity of Nate’s situation, An must choose between following his initial resolve to fight for Nate whatever happens or returning to being closed off to the possibility of having a man and family of his own.
Brave for You is a lovely, slow burn story that manages to incorporate angst-bait/potentially high drama concepts and scenarios (drunken kisses, first time with a man, married MC, traditional/disapproving parents, and more) into the story without continually falling prey (usually) to predictable and trite character reactions. It is refreshing to have the MCs handle their conflicted feelings and behaviors as reasonable, honest adults even when it leads to awkwardness or discomfort. The slow development of An and Nate’s relation from friends to boyfriends is also very well done; its believably bumpy, yet fluid as both men fall into easy companionship while trying to navigate their less than friends-appropriate feelings and expectations. For Nate, this means not only dealing with the relative newness of being physically attracted to a man, but the fact that he is still married and can’t help but feel obligated and attached to the person he has known for years and with whom he shares a child. For An, this at first means valuing Nate’s friendship and the camaraderie and unfamiliar ease he feels in Nate’s company more than his desire for him, and later being willing to risk his heart on Nate, a man who is irrevocably tied to a woman who has rights to him that she can come back and claim at any time.
As MCs, Nate and An are well-developed and enjoyable characters, and the time they spend together with and without the kids is filled with fun, camaraderie, and undertones of sexual tension. Nate is jovial, laid back, open-minded, and just adorable. As a single dad of a baby, he also isn’t portrayed as some bumbling oaf who is absolutely lost without his wife. He is loving and competent, and while he misses Olivia, worries about her, and struggles with feeling guilty for whatever role he played in her decision to leave them, he is not lost without her. Coming from a very traditional Vietnamese family, An is a contradiction. Although he came out to his family fifteen years ago, in many ways he has lived as a closeted man, desperate for the approval of his family the same as he did before he told the truth. Keeping his dating life relegated to impersonal hookups, An has focused all his energy on being a good uncle/surrogate father for his niece and his pediatric practice. Calm and self assured on the outside, An is a compelling mix of loyalty, generosity, resigned loneliness, and shame. However, the unparalleled joy and connection he feels with Nate stirs not only his blood, but his hopefulness for a full partnership and romantic love.
All the feels and complex emotions of the narrative are portrayed excellently by Iggy Toma. I found his voices for both An and Nate to be perfect to the descriptions in the narrative—An’s steadfast, patient, and unruffled exterior in which Nate finds so much peace and Nate’s open, honest, and good-natured spirit shine through. Toma does an excellent job with the range of emotions the book goes through—from befuddled denial to passion to loving awe. He also does a great job with most of the secondary characters, although it did take me a while to get used to Diane’s voice, which may have a bit to do with the fact that at times it is hard to believe Diane is only 3 or 4, so my annoyance may have been more at the writing.
Toma also does a great job making the pieces of the book that may drag for some or the one time in which the book does fall into eye-rolling cliché work better than they probably do if one is reading the story. I like descriptions that really bring something to life for me, particularly something for which I am unfamiliar. As An is Vietnamese and Hawaiian and Nate has little knowledge of local or Vietnamese-style foods, the story is very detailed in their meal scenes, which may be off-putting for some, though many scenes are spiced with Diane’s precocious presence.
As to the resolution of Nate and Olivia’s story, for me Toma’s portrayal of Olivia’s reasoning and emotions made me more sympathetic to something that was believable in some ways and unbelievable and rage-inducing in others. To avoid spoilers, while in part I can understand what drove Olivia’s thinking and actions that made her leave, I just couldn’t completely buy how guilt could keep her from being a mother to her son, but not keep her from building a parallel life. However, as I said, I think Toma’s narration does a lot to convey the overall confusion and emotion on everyone’s part in this situation and helped me give a pass (more or less) to the unfortunate drama for drama’s sake that Lacy had deftly avoided until this point. All in all, I think Brave for You is a sweet, charming story that is one of those books that is elevated in the hands of a talented narrator.