Zaire James initially enjoyed jet setting and hobnobbing with his husband. However, as his thirtieth birthday looms closer, Zaire has taken stock of his relationship and discovered that, at best, he and his husband are coasting through the party of life. Longing for a love connection that goes deeper than simply being an “it” couple in the BlaQueer community around LA, he files for divorce. With his newly gained freedom, Zaire begins living it up with dating apps and casual relationships, hoping one will lead to something real. Along the way, he has a few meet-cutes with Kenny Kane, his neighbor across the street.
Despite being not quite forty, Kenny’s list of accomplishments are as impressive as his vision for the future. He recently earned a Ph.D. and quit his university job to strike out as an entrepreneur seeking to create a “university in the community” to help marginalized groups reach their potential. But where his professional life seems ripe with possibilities, his personal life is in shambles. For years, Kenny’s attracted men who are no good for him. Most recently, an LA instagram-famous socialite named Brandon-Malik has put his heart through the ringer. When Kenny eventually meets his new neighbor, Zaire, they don’t exactly hit it off, but Kenny’s hopeful a weekend in Palm Springs with Kenny’s best friend and some of Zaire’s friends will bring them closer together. Unfortunately, their chances as a couple are dashed almost as soon as they start—and each seems to hold the other responsible.
Eventually, Zaire and Kenny realize they need to focus on themselves before committing to anyone else. It takes time, patience, and a lot of help from their respective families before they can move on from the past…and hope to build a friendship in the future.
In Case You Forgot was my pick for New-To-Me Author Week for Reading Challenge Month and I was chuffed with the excellent, character-driven story the authors delivered. This story has been a breath of fresh air, far removed from the standard get together and instalove subgenres. Smith and Lamar have created full-bodied prose that conveys these characters and their situations beautifully. The story unfolds from first-person perspective that alternates between Kenny and Zaire (with a few special chunks narrated by some of Zaire’s siblings). Even with so much of the drama that unfolds in both men’s lives being centered on their failed relationships, I thought Smith and Lamar created multifaceted characters who I grew to care about far more than merely whether or not the two MCs would end up coupled together. Kenny was especially relatable for me; he’s highly educated and knows he doesn’t want to work in the ivory tower that is white-centric academia. However, he struggles to get his consulting business off the ground and seemingly lets his dream of a university in the community concept languish. These hurdles seem to be due largely to his preoccupation with a lover who’s dumped him like a box of rocks. I loved being front and center to watch Kenny learn how to deal with the loss (and acknowledge that he is actually way out of his ex’s league). Similarly, Zaire’s story is wrapped up in his own relationship drama as he navigates the monumental shift from married man to singleton.
Apart from the various men Zaire and Kenny encounter, the book is rich with the experiences and realities Black and Brown people have in contemporary America. From the language used for Kenny’s and Zaire’s narrations, to the characters’ reflections on the fact of living in West LA while Black, the individual lives of these men felt rich with lived experiences. There are some nods to what Smith and Lamar call BlaQueer culture, but apart from the fateful trip to Palm Springs, I got the sense that these characters were more down-to-earth than 24-hour party people. In point of fact, it seems like Zaire and Kenny each come to understand it is the highly public, party-centric lifestyles of their exes that are turn offs for them. I thought this aspect of the story worked as an excellent counterbalance to Kenny’s and Zaire’s on-page struggles with relationships.
The only real criticism I have is in the specific voices for Zaire and Kenny. Specifically, that their narrative voices and family backgrounds felt sufficiently similar that I had to constantly remind myself that Zaire is 30 and getting a divorce, while it is Kenny who is 40 and being played by a fuckboy. The headings clearly state who is the narrator, but even then I found myself having to flip back to reconfirm who was who at first.
Overall, this is an excellent book. I loved the POC cast and the effortless way Smith and Chaz incorporate so much diversity when it comes to the queer community. The MCs are compelling, a great mix of admirable and repellent qualities. For anyone looking for a character-driven story about romance, or readers who enjoy strong POC and Queer representation, this is an excellent title.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for New-to-Me Author Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a bundle of fabulous books donated by Carina Press! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on New-to-Me Author Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.