Charlie lives with his aunt in France as he goes to art school. When his aunt hires a new gardener, Ezra, Charlie can’t see anyone but him. Ezra is a few years older than Charlie and Charlie has never seen anyone as beautiful as Ezra. Charlie has no idea how to approach Ezra, and the guys get off to a rocky start. But that soon changes and they are grabbing whatever stolen moments together that they can.
Charlie was supposed to return home to England after school, but the desire to be with Ezra changes all of his plans. Charlie is on the cusp of having everything he wanted, until a life changing act of violence sends him spiraling far away from the man he loves.
Roots Before Branches is a warm and engaging coming-of-age story told through Charlie’s eyes. When the book opens, we know that some time has passed since the major events of the story, but we are not told how much time. It doesn’t read so much as a flashback, but more as being shown a memory.
Charlie keeps to himself a lot. His art is his main focus and he loves living in France. When he first sees Ezra, so much starts to click into place for him. Charlie and Ezra have a sweet romance and they become committed to each other quickly in that first love kind of way, but there is something a little extra between them and they see their future together. Charlie needs to make some decisions, though, as he is almost finished with school and he is supposed to return home to England. He doesn’t have the chance to make all those decisions for himself when an act of violence turns Charlie’s world upside down and threatens to drag him under.
We learn that Charlie has mental health issues and this is tied tightly into the story. When the book opens, we know right away that he and Ezra are not together and the story then becomes what happened and how Charlie fought his way back.
A few side characters are brought into the story and not all of them worked well for me and detracted more than added. The tone of the story stays largely the same throughout, as well, and it never felt in the moment either in the past or present and there was too much of an emotional distance to leave the intended impact on me. The book also had numerous typos and punctuation errors and the book would benefit from a strong proofread.
Years pass and the men have to find their way to a second chance despite past hurts and relationships with others. But at the end, it is clear that Charlie and Ezra belong together. Roots Before Branches is an interesting take on a coming-of-age story where real life is a struggle at a young age and true love finds its way.