A first love is a wondrous thing. When it’s coupled with a first kiss and coming out, it can be even more spectacular. But for Dane Forrester, the romance that begins with the gorgeous lifeguard at the family resort his parents insist on dragging him to is about to be seriously derailed. Khalid is marvelous—patient, kind, sexy—all the things Dane wants in a first love. Together they discover each other and work to overcome Dane’s fears—of water, of coming out, and of saying “I love you” too soon and scaring Khalid away. Everything is going so well until an argument with his parents finds Dane blurting out he is gay and the door between he and his father slams shut. While Dane’s mother fights to overcome her surprise, his father refuses to acknowledge his existence if he insisted on dating a boy—a Muslim boy to boot.
When tragedy strikes Khalid’s life, the two young men are torn apart and the year that follows finds them on opposite ends of the earth. Will they ever be able to bridge the gap that has opened between them and find a way to love again?
Spanning over a decade, Shake the Stars by V.L. Locey explores first love, first heartbreak, and second chances. Beginning the summer after Dane graduates when he meets the handsome Khalid at a family resort, the novel paints a poetic picture of what falling in love for the first time can be like. It also reminds us of the devastating reality facing so many teens when they come out to their parents only to have one or both cut their child out of their lives. For poor Dane, who has waited all his high school years in the hopes that college would open a door not only to romance, but to a way to break the news of his being gay to his folks, his father’s cold shoulder and refusal to speak to him is a cruelty he never expected. Khalid is so compassionate and mature—well beyond the two year age gap between he and Dane–and stands by Dane after the confrontation with his parents. But then Khalid must go home and that’s when long distance begins to eat away at their fledgling relationship.
The beginning of this novel felt a bit slow and a bit over the top for me. The story line was good—quite good–but the incredibly poetic and flowery language Dane often both spoke and thought with seemed odd for an eighteen-year old, even given the fact that he wanted to become a writer. Sometimes it felt as though a much older man was taking over the young adult body of the main character. Even though the author had Khalid often acknowledging that Dane spoke beautiful words, it still seemed a bit off to me.
The other element that gave me pause was a bit of poor editing that kept this first half of the novel from flowing smoothly. While I was given an advanced reader’s copy and expected there to be some errors remaining, I was surprised at the number of errors. More importantly, I was struck by the lengthy passages where we were privy to all of Dane’s inner musings—many of which slowed down the overall pacing and sometimes bringing the story to a full stop while Dane waxed poetical. Again, it was as if he was an old man reflecting back on a long life of love with Khalid rather than a young man who had known the other for just a few weeks.
The second half of the novel was crafted very well, however. The pacing improved, the language fit the age of the narrator, and the struggle to recapture what had once been between Dane and Khalid was realistic and, at times, painful to observe. Much time had passed and hurts had been levied, causing both Dane and Khalid to be slower to trust each other and what they were feeling. Here is where Shake the Stars and Locey’s great writing ability really took off and I was reminded why I loved this author’s work so very much. The chemistry between these two men was so intense and it scared both of them—that made for both dramatic and sensual encounters that really made this novel shine.
While there may be a few problems with pacing and language use early in the novel, I still think this is a lovely romance that uses the second chance trope to its best effect. I think fans of this author may enjoy this latest release particularly if a little angst and a sweet romance is their cup of tea.