Rhett has so many secrets it’s hard to keep them all straight in his mind. But counting his bones always calms him, his routines always ease his troubled mind, and tracking every calorie that goes into his mouth is essential if he wants to keep from getting fat. A “fat faggot” is the name his mother so often called him when she wanted to hurt him—which was most of the time. Not his brother, but him, always him, who she never wanted and often abused. But that is something Rhett doesn’t think about; he will stay in the present, even if it kills him.
Then Rhett sees the guy at the gay bar his roommate dragged him to and once again Rhett must fight the attraction he feels—the wrong, nasty attraction. At least, that is what he was taught to believe. He mustn’t call the man, mustn’t follow through and respond to the guy’s flirtation, but Rhett is weak and lonely and so very needy. So when police constable, Colt Williams, arrives at Rhett’s door thinking the screams from the horror movie he is watching mean a domestic disturbance, Rhett is helpless and begins a secret relationship with the kind-hearted cop. All is well until Colt recognizes that Rhett barely eats and is so painfully thin. His observations and meddling signal the end of their relationship, until too little food and too much anxiety causes a near tragic episode bringing them together again.
B. Rourke is not only a new to me author, but To Be Alive is their first novel released for publication. For a first story, this book is pretty amazing. The honest and unflinching look at how past abuse shapes one’s life and causes everything from self-hate to anorexia is sometimes hard to read, but most of it is essential to the plot. This book should have trigger warnings accompanying it and, at present, it does not. There are many fairly graphic scenes that describe past abuse and current eating /purging situations in this novel. Sometimes I felt like these scenes could have been pared down; it amounted to a fairly constant barrage of gut wrenching moments that shaped the overall mood of the story and kept the romance portion from making the novel more hopeful. Don’t get me wrong here, there is a positive ending and, despite the rather rushed relationship between Colt and Rhett at the beginning of the story, their attraction only gains strength as the story unfolds.
So while I do feel To Be Alive is a bit overwhelming in terms of how the author chooses to present Rhett’s many memories that led to his present day neuroses and ailments, I still think this story is very well done. I love Colt. He is intuitive and loyal, even in the face of Rhett’s many problems. The book hints at Colt not having the best relationship with his own mother, so I think this is what shaped him into the caring man he is. I appreciate how he finally confronts Rhett, but doesn’t run from the mess that poor Rhett turns out to be. If anyone deserves a hero, it is Rhett. The things this young man endured are frightening to read, but essential to the reason he is struggling in the present. I also admire how the author tied up the loose ends of Rhett’s past. I can’t say much on this or it will spoil the story, but I am so glad that a critical person who watched the horrors Rhett endured ends up affirming his memories and becomes a loving part of his future.
I am definitely going to be watching for more work by B. Rourke. If To Be Alive is any indication of the talent hidden within this author, then I am solidly onboard to read further. Until then, I must say that I would recommend this story to anyone who is looking for a new voice in the romance world.