Brooks Johnson hasn’t been home in ten years. Growing up in small town Tennessee, Licking Thicket to be exact, wasn’t the best fit for him and he made his way to NYC as soon as he could. Brooks keeps in touch with his parents, but it’s not the best time when they call and ask him to return home to take part in the annual festival. He’s not looking forward to returning to small town life and people questioning if he really is gay and he’s certainly not looking forward to seeing his ex-girlfriend, Ava, who never got over their break up in high school. The best thing Brooks can think of is to take his straight best friend, Paul, as his fake boyfriend. It seems like he’s not the only one with that idea as Ava has also brought her gay BFF, Mal, as her stand in boyfriend, and Mal is everything Brooks wants.
Brooks and Mal click instantly, but they both have parts to play, even when the chemistry between the two of them is as hot as the Tennessee summer. Maybe Tennessee will offer Brooks all the things he thought he wanted to leave behind.
This is an easy to read, light book that will take you to small town Tennessee. The town of Licking Thicket is everything you would expect it to be, complete with all the innuendos you can think of. Brooks was everything everyone wanted him to be growing up, except none of it was really him and, when he came out, his parents didn’t exactly know what to believe and his high school girlfriend still hasn’t gotten over it ten years later. Still, Brooks finds himself returning to help his parents with the annual festival and it’s way more work than Brooks anticipated, while he has to keep up the charade with Paul and create content for a work account.
Mal grew up in a small town as well, but doesn’t have any warm memories to fall back on. He made it to LA and is working as an artist and will do anything for his best friend, Ava, who also happens to be Brooks’ ex-girlfriend. The book starts to go into unrequited love territory when Brooks and Mal click instantly, but it wasn’t the best thought out plan because Brooks knows that Mal is gay and everyone can tell that Paul is not, so while both of them are pretending to be in these fake relationships, they start to see through to what is going on. The attraction between Brooks and Mal is real and complete and it was easy to want them have their HEA.
While the book deals with the fake relationships, it also deals with faking your way through life to be the person everyone wants you to be in any given situation. The situation with Ava was a motivating force in the book, but it needed more work for me. Ten years later, Ava is still devasted and vindictive about Brooks breaking up with her. She talks about it to Mal so often that he can recite the story by heart. Ava and Brooks never have a conversation about any of it and once everyone finds love, the situation was completely dropped. Everyone also thinks that Brooks is “gay,” as in they never really believed him when he came out and they are trying hard to get him back together with Ava. Ava is seen as the poor, broken-hearted girl, but no one ever gives any thought to what Brooks went through growing up gay in a small town and it was too one-sided for me.
Brooks and Mal still have their time to come together and, if you like books set in small towns with all the innuendos, insta-love, and lots of busy bodies everywhere, this should then work for you.