Michaelangelo never expected a video of himself calmly standing up to a bully in order to defend himself and the homeless man the bully had targeted to go viral. Now that it has, his world has been flipped upside down. First, he’s dealing with his sudden urge to help Bran, the homeless man. It goes beyond offering a shower and a bite to eat. Michaelangelo discovers a connection to Bran that he hasn’t felt since his twin brother died a few months ago. Soon, he’s sharing more of himself than he knew he had to give…and it’s both exciting and terrifying. Second, he’s dealing with the fallout the video generated because if Michaelangelo is identified as the person in the video, it could jeopardize his work with NSA. In addition to sorting out his love life, he has to maintain a handle on the tidal wave of new emotions he’s feeling.
For Bran, “home” was just a vague concept. After growing up in group and foster homes, he finally escaped to the military. But a sniper attack gone wrong put the kibosh on his career and, with no where else to go, he found himself homeless in the streets of Venice beach and literally digging through trash to keep himself fed. When a couple of bullies taunt him with the promise of pizza only to literally spit on in the next moment, a random stranger steps in and saves the day. Except he does more than stop the humiliation, he offers Bran a meal, a shower, a place to stay. Bran feels immediate gratitude, but more, he feels his dormant heart begin to warm up to this incredibly attractive, well-to-do, nice guy.
But as quickly as love finds Michaelangelo and Bran, trouble is also brewing. The bullies are out to get their own back and they have the money and resources to get the ball rolling. Despite all the protection afforded Michaelangelo as a member of NSA, it’s not enough to protect everything, everyone, all the time. In the blink of an eye, the hardwon, whirlwind romance is put to the real test.
Personally, this book started off on the wrong foot for me and it didn’t improve much as I read. The initial red flags revolved around what I consider discriminatory language. I took umbrage with the author’s useage of fatphobia and using a disability as a pejorative. Other readers may read this book and think nothing of it, but for me, I couldn’t help but be turned off at how one MC instantly focuses in on the size of the character who starts off as an asshole and ends up a bully. Or the fact that the one truly villainous character is the only fat one. Or the way the other MC describes his awkwardness at interacting with others using outdated “slang” that has been considered inappropriate since the 1960s.
One of the merits of the book was the structure. The whole story is broken down into ten parts, each of which is further subdivided into chapters. Each chapter is told from a specific character’s point of view. At least this gives a robust view of the various events that happen and helps build a bit of tension. Initially, it feels like these different narratives are being told more linearly…with each one following directly after the other in terms of time. Towards the end of the book, the shifting POVs felt like they converged a little more. However, I felt first-person narrative clashed with the stream-of-conscious elements of the story. For example, there is a whole passage where Michaelangelo discusses why people use a definite article with “FBI” as in “the FBI” and why people do not use the definite article with “NSA.” I could not understand why Michaelangelo, who has apparently worked for NSA for some time, would need to consciously think about that. Another character breaks down the acronym for SWOT, even though it is apparently a standard tool in his industry.
I struggled with the romance aspect of the story. It was clear these two were going to end up as star-crossed lovers and I guess this story works as a sort of “love at first sight.” Michaelangelo and Bran certainly get real close real quick. On the one hand, I appreciated how painstakingly slowly things seem to move. For the first two-thirds of the book, all the Michelangelo/Bran scenes work on building their relationship in micro stages and seeing it from both sides really helped make it feel more “real” to me. On the other hand, I was dumbstruck by a few issues. One was their first time getting physical with zero talk about consent, let alone confirmation the other guy was even conscious. This was hugely problematic for me, and I didn’t feel real great about it even after knowing BOTH MCs were having the same “oh my god, can I touch this guy sexually?” thoughts. Another issue was the double “out-for-you” trope—both Bran and Michaelangelo establish that they are straight (right up until they begin trying to sex each other up without consent).
Overall, I think this was an ambitious story. The varying points of view keep things mildly interesting, even if some major plot points/developments are painfully transparent. I thought there were some problems with the romance, but at least I wasn’t constantly wondering what the two MCs saw in each other. There are strong thriller elements revolving around U.S. alphabet soup organizations, albeit there is a lot of mansplain-y type prose thrown in. For readers who want to read about star-crossed lovers finding each other and readers who enjoy law-enforcement type thrillers, you may enjoy this title.