The year is 1993, and Cameron Lord has transferred from a large state university in Texas to a smaller one in a little town called Tall Thicket. Cameron’s father has sent him there due to a scandal Cameron caused. He’s been diagnosed as bipolar and is taking lithium. He’s committed to starting fresh and studying psychology. However, Cameron sees a handsome young man in the bookstore and is taken with him. One day, Cameron drives by the local pizza parlor and sees that young man working. Coincidentally, the pizza parlor is hiring, so he walks in to apply for the job. Now, Cameron’s working with his crush and wants to spend as much time with him as he can.
Tim Sullivan has been raised in an ultra religious home and has been taught being gay is a sin…and that the AIDS epidemic is punishment for a debauched lifestyle. He’s on Prozac for his depression, even though his family isn’t happy about it. Tim is in a local band called the Angry Goats. They cover songs that are popular at the time…grunge/alternative. Initially timid around Cameron, he becomes more and more attracted to him, despite his upbringing.
Eventually, Tim invites Cameron to one of his band’s gigs, and a tentative relationship between the two begins. They’re falling hard, but can they overcome their individual mental illnesses, homophobia, and Tim’s family issues to be happy together?
I chose Outshined because it takes place in the early 90s…when I was a young adult and listening to the same alternative/grunge music featured in the story. The mental illness issues were also interesting to me, and I wanted to see how the authors would handle such a sensitive subject. Twenty five years ago (give or take), attitudes about that were different. While there will almost always be a stigma around mental illness, people are much more accepting than they were then. Adding to these issues, I was intrigued by the idea of one of the MCs having a religious and homophobic family, especially their ideas about the AIDS epidemic. I am most definitely not disappointed.
I find myself completely identifying with both Cameron and Tim. They’re good guys in unfortunate situations. At times, it’s uncomfortable, but always compelling. They need each other. That much is plain to see. Tim’s struggle with his sexuality broke my heart. To overcome everything you’ve ever been taught is so difficult, but Cameron is understanding and offers comfort every step of the way. Cameron is actually willing to try to make the best of a terrible situation. He wants to please his father, of course, but he genuinely wants to succeed. Also, he understands what happened was due to his bipolar disorder, and he owns his mistakes. The authors bring the right amount of angst to the characters, and they balance that with romance and a bit of humor. Cameron and Tim endure some very tense moments, but they want to do that side by side. They’re sexy when they need to be. Loving when they need to be. Funny when they need to be. Well, you get the picture.
I also love the way the music of the time is important to the story. Whether it’s Tim’s band covering Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, or Nirvana, or even the two of them sitting on a bean bag in Tim’s room listening to Depeche Mode or Crowded House. I’ve mentioned listening to that music myself, and it gives me a feeling of almost a comfort to be reminded of it all these years later. Nacht and Euclid skillfully weave the songs through the plot, and that makes the story all the richer.
The story itself feels moody, and the writing style is smooth. It’s never overwhelming, despite the heavy subject matter. I read this one from beginning to end in one sitting because I was so caught up in it. Cameron and Tim are the main focus, but there are quite a few background characters that added to the rich tapestry. Each plays an important role, but they don’t chew scenery. Tim’s bandmates are great, with the exception of one who’s a total jerk, and even that guy is an absolute necessity to the plot. Each scene is nicely detailed and easily conjure up a movie style image. I am able to “see” their faces, the pizza parlor, the bar, and Tim’s apartment. HUGE congrats to the authors for this.
Now, I don’t want to give away the plot because I honestly believe this book needs to be read to completely grasp how amazing it is. I will give you this. The ending wraps up nicely, but the impression that Cameron and Tim will have to keep fighting to be happy. There are issues that remain unclear. They never confront their families or even address the religious aspect of Tim’s upbringing. I almost want to call this one an HFN rather than an HEA, but I’m not going to do that. These young men are happy together, and the impression that they’re each other’s salvation is apparent. I highly recommend Outshined. It’s damn near perfect. I may even say it’s sublime. Do yourself a favor and pick it up.