Story Rating: 4.75 stars
Audio Rating: 4.75 stars
Narrator: Michael Ferraiuolo
Length: 14 hours, 18 minutes
Nico Blue, international rock star, has returned to his childhood home of Little Heights, Maine to recover from drug addiction. Back when he was a teen, Nico was “Nicky Blumfeld,” the adopted son of a loving Jewish couple. He was a musical prodigy and best friends with his neighbor, Jasper “Jazz” Henricks, who became his first and only love. Jazz broke Nicky’s tender heart when he decided to follow his calling and enter the priesthood. Shattered, Nicky ran off to LA to chase a musical dream that led to his exploitation, joining Vespertine, a rising band, and finding endless supplies of anonymous sex and record label-purchased drugs. Nicky’s hit songs were all tales of heartbroken woe inspired by the abandonment he felt when Jazz left him 17 years ago. Reconnecting with his family is likely the only way Nicky can recover his life, but he’s also determined to let Father Hendricks know just how savage he’s felt over their broken teen romance.
Jasper Hendricks is enamored with his life as a priest. He loves his vestments, the order of mass, his calling, his parishoners, and especially Blue Oasis, a foster-group home he runs with the help of the church that accepts homeless LGBTQ teens. Jasper is an acknowledged gay priest. His work launching and running Blue Oasis even garnered him national acclaim in The Atlantic. And, this has brought enhanced scrutiny of his diocese. The Archbishop doesn’t like Jasper much, and is insisting Blue Oasis be open to all homeless teens, not just queer ones. It’s making Jasper question his role in the church, and Nicky’s return has put that question under a microscope. Nicky’s righteous anger is upsetting to Jasper, and makes him re-examine his calling, and their history. “Father Jazz” as Nicky begins calling him around the Blue Oasis kids, wants to support Nicky’s recovery, but soon realizes that his close proximity to Nicky and hearing his history of suffering in his musical career, is awakening feelings that aren’t only empathetic. No, Jazz is remembering his deep love for Nicky, and it has him wondering if that love was a real as it had felt at the time. Nicky would like nothing more than to have Jasper’s love again, but not at the expense of Jasper’s position; he also has begun to care for the Blue Oasis kids, and feels that mission is important.
This audiobook with narrator Michael Ferraiuolo is just plain fantastic. The narrator makes Nicky’s gritty sarcasm sing, and Jazz’s pious tenor soulful. This story is tender and touching. It has longing and pain, existential dilemmas, and two men who are damaged in ways they do not always see. I felt a part of the story from the beginning, in the sacristy with Father Hendricks, carefully donning on his vestments, praying in English and Latin, which was seamlessly integrated in the audio. Then, Nicky’s brutal “confession” had me immediately hooked. The emotional resonance carried me through the highs and lows of the interactions each character experienced. The plot seemed carefully laid out to create expected non-romantic conflicts: Nicky’s battle with addiction, and Jasper’s struggles surrounding Blue Oasis. Each of these had Nicky and Jazz leaning on one another, rebuilding their rapport and ramping up the slow burn of their eventual reconciliation.
The side characters are on point, with dramas that support the main plot and help the characters find their best selves. Nicky’s parents and bandmates felt like real people with a real and qualified interest in Nicky’s recovery. The smarmy record label execs who insist Nicky must return to LA and record a new album add realistic pressure to that recovery and the tenuous connections Nicky and Jazz are making. Jasper’s close confidantes are mainly in the church, and he trusts them with his doubts and questioning. They care for him completely, and their advice is honest, even if it’s through a lens of his role as a priest. The immediate connection I felt with the characters had me cheering for their success, and for them to find love for themselves and with each other. The resolution is intense and beautiful. I was on the edge listening as they made the right decisions to fix their problems and find a path to walk together.