As he’s built like a bear, many people expect Ashley “Buck” Buchanan to have a matching temperament. But Pippin, son of his next door neighbor, knows better. Ashley is the kindest, most gentle, and most generous of people. In fact, Ashley takes great pride in being able to help Pippin out—from giving Pippin a warm place to stay while Pippin’s mother is “entertaining” one of her many gentlemen callers, to providing the young man with basic necessities, and, of course, honest friendship. As the two of them grow closer together, Ashley begins to wonder if he’s finally learning to fall in love again. In fact, not even a blast from his past is enough to tear down the sweet beginnings of a relationship with Pippin. However, when Pippin’s mother reacts poorly to learning her young son and much older neighbor are romantically involved, she pulls the rug out from under them both by announcing several momentous changes that could put the kibosh on Pippin and Ashley’s relationship. The biggest question is whether these two star-crossed lovers can accept a good thing, or if pride will get in the way.
As a whole, this story felt like a syrupy, feel-good, get together. One of the main tropes is age difference and Iris really highlights this aspect of the characters’ relationship on page. It seems a bit odd that these long-time neighbors are suddenly tip-toeing around an intense attraction. There was no discernable shift from “just the little neighbor kid who grew up next to me” to “hot young neighbor guy.” I find this extra puzzling because Ashley does quibble with the age difference and initially sort of write himself off as being too old for Pippin, despite offering the younger man a place to crash while his mother is selling sex, buying him books and clothes, and cooking for him, etc.
As far as the characters go, I took some issues with how Ashley’s narration frames Pippin’s mother. I think my dislike of his intensely negative assessment of her stems from the fact that he’s criticizing a woman I wasn’t sure he really knew. Once Pipping begins piping in with his own quibbles about his mother and once the woman herself appears on page and (finally) reinforces the negative image in pretty spectacular fashion, I felt better about how Ashley disparrages her choices. Still, the handling of the mother figure was done in a way that left me feeling defensive of the woman until she actually appeared herself. Of course, I think Ashley takes such umbrage with Pippin’s mother because Ashely is convinced her poor choices have a negative impact on the man Ashley is falling in love with. When the mother is out of the picture, Ashley comes across as a more sympathetic character, one who is constantly thinking about what he can do to make Pippin’s life easier.
Pippin felt less concrete to me, despite being the other main character. I think this is likely just the fact that the story is narrated from Ashely’s POV, not Pippin’s. Despite this, I did get the impression that Pippin is a wonderful complement Ashley. Where Ashely is reserved with showing affection because he’s not sure his advances would be welcome, Pippin is very demonstrative, even before the two are romantically involved in any way. Later, when Ashley’s ex makes an appearance, the difference between the two are put on display. It ends up being Pippin who stands up and protects Ashely from the ex who was determined to muscle his way back into Ashley’s pants (if not his heart). Pippin sets the ex straight. Pippin is also something of a foil to Ashely. Ashley wants nothing more than to just take care of people, and Pippin in particular. Pippin, however, has a streak of pride a mile wide and refuses to accept almost any kind of help and certainly not any charity. This made for an interesting difference between the two and pretty much drove the drama when Pippin learned he wouldn’t be able to continue living next door to Ashley…thus kicking off a bit of an angst fest about whether Pippin and Ashley felt genuine emotion for each other or not.
There were only two sort of problematic points in the main love story. The first is during the first chunk of the book where Ashley’s dealing with an ever growing amount of unrequited feelings for Pippin. For me, Ashley’s behavior came across as a bit creepy. He acts possessive of Pippin who, at this point, is still just the ostensibly too-young neighbor and has a little scene where he drives all over creating looking for Pippin. The second is the ending. While I loved the sweet way Pippin and Ashley make their romance official, the way the story overall wraps up felt very rushed. After a pretty slow burn to just get these two to admit they like one another, then another lengthy build up to acting on their emotions, the one-page wrap up was just barely enough to confirm that *acting* on their emotions didn’t scare either shy lover away.
All in all, if you enjoy sweet get-together stories featuring slow burns or age-difference stories, you’d probably enjoy this. It’s a quick, easy read that’s light on the sizzle, but does a pretty good job showing two opposites attract (older, bearish and younger, twinkish) types falling in love.