At 21, it’s Elliott Meyer’s dream to become a member of academia…without the burden of repaying student loans for decades to come. His sense of responsibility extends beyond merely remaining debt-free. Elliott is also adamant about sending money to his father to help with his debts. All told, Elliott’s financial need is significant. And, despite the stories he tells of tutoring classmates and selling papers online, Elliott is actually paying his way by engaging in sex work. His last client, Innes Kent, was easy enough to manage—just play arm candy at fancy events and provide a good time between the sheets. It paid the bills and still let Elliott maintain the kind of control over his time he needed to continue acing his studies…until it didn’t and Elliott was forced to seek out a new client. He just never in a million years imagined the nephew of the very man who had been his last patron would pony up.
Aiden Kent never liked that his uncle paid for sex…yet when he finds Elliott Meyer cruising for a new client, Aiden can’t help but step in. For one thing, young Elliott apparently has his eye on rather less-than-honorable prospective clients. For another, Aiden himself wants, well, he wants someone to share domestic activities like couch snuggles without the emotional strings of commitment. Perhaps Aiden and Elliott can kill two birds with one stone. Reaching a client/service-provider agreement between them is pretty easy. And when Aiden’s work as a lawyer demands he attend soirees, well, what is a little overtime in a professional relationship? Until the events stop being merely for the sake of appearances and the scheduled weekly meetings involve more than merely couch surfing and occasional orgasms. Somehow, both Aiden and Elliott realize they are falling in love with one another. But between Aiden’s blindness to the pride a working man feels about earning his keep, and Elliott’s inability to accept any form of charity, it may cause an irreparable rift.
Worth It is a contemporary story that features a smallish age gap, largish experience gap, and obvious wealth gap between our romantic interests. The age gap serves as sort of a joke most of the time. For example, Elliott teases Aiden about being an old man when Elliott learns Aiden really does want to just sit around and watch movies with someone. But Aiden’s 28 years to Elliott’s 21 sometimes does cause friction. I think this is most clearly shown during the crisis at the end. But the wealth gap is the most obvious point of contention between the two and, predictably, serves as the catalyst for their big fight. Personally, I was interested in how sympathetic I was to Aiden’s arguments about money: he had plenty of it, it wasn’t an issue if Elliott couldn’t pay him back, and he was happy to give it to someone who needed it and would use it to get an education. I could understand Elliott’s feelings about pride and paying his own way, and especially how the (in)ability to be financially independent could affect a personal/romantic relationship. But I still ended up disagreeing with Elliott’s insistence that he simply could not accept any financial help from Aiden unless it was in transactional form. What’s more, I was sort of stunned that Elliott never realizes that he, himself, ignores any questions of pride his own father might have by sending money home every month. It was such an interesting one-eighty to me and I wish the fact that Elliott expected his father to accept Elliot’s money, but Elliot refused to accept Aiden’s money had been addressed on page because the parallels there… Anyway, the fact that Aiden is filthy rich starts off as a nebulous thing, but I really enjoyed how Young slowly but clearly builds a picture of just how wealthy Aiden is. I think it helped/exacerbated the have/have-not dynamic that eventually afflicts the Aiden/Elliott relationship without making it a jarring surprise.
The experience gap is interesting as well. Aiden is portrayed as more of a loner, someone who doesn’t have time to make a lot of friends. Part of this is explained by the ambivalent feelings he has towards his job, and so he doesn’t really have any work friends. There’s also the fact that Aiden and his uncle Innes both work in the same law offices and Aiden does not particularly like Innes. The fact that both Aiden and Innes have had professional paid relationships with Elliott is addressed on page and, I thought, rather well done for such a far-fetched triangle. As a result, Aiden is intensely private and avoids a lot of group things. By contrast, Elliott is trying to cultivate the kind of experiences and networking required to break into academia in the future. Plus, he’s dealt with the death of a parent and the stress of supporting himself. So despite Elliott’s youth, he’s had a lot of experience dealing with life. As a result, the somewhat stunted Aiden and the needs-must oriented Elliott manage to overcome the awkwardness of a college student conducting a relationship with a very good lawyer.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching the dynamic between Aiden and Elliot shift. Their relationship is clearly just as transactional as Elliott requires it to be, but even from the beginning, Aiden’s desire not for just sexual release but the domesticity of a significant other pings something in Elliott. And the long, slow, irrevocable slide into actual feelings was a delight to read. Of course, it makes the big fight over Aiden’s wealth at the end that much more bittersweet (I think most any reader can identify with at least one of the characters, if not both). There are very few instances of Aiden being/doing lawyer-ly things; the reader sees comparatively more of Elliott’s school goings on. Therein lies one of my two main criticisms. For someone hell bent on entering academia, Elliott seems blissfully unaware of what (in my experience, at least) it takes to get into academia. It’s not his excellent transcripts, work ethic, or being published, it’s not having an in with a wealthy donor to the school (though I’m sure it would help). Getting actual work in academia seems to require that the person doing the job you want has retired or died. The other criticism is that I didn’t feel like this crushing debt Elliott feels he was responsible for was well explained. The desire to avoid student loan debt was clear, and it was sort of clear that Elliott felt obligated to help pay for upkeep on the house he grew up in. It was a lot less clear that, apparently, Elliott’s mother’s cancer treatments racked up hefty medical bills. I can imagine Elliott would want to contribute to these expenses, to ease the burden on his father…but at the same time, it wasn’t really clear where the aversion to debt comes from. Maybe it was their inability to get a loan that prevented his mother from getting the best treatment? Maybe he felt he didn’t contribute enough when his mother was in financial need (though he was all of 10 when she died)? I just didn’t understand why Elliott was hell bent on NOT racking up debt AND paying down his parents’ debts RIGHT NOW.
Overall, this was an engaging read with a bit of emotional complexity. I really enjoyed the exploration of money (money more than class, I would say) in a relationship. Especially given that Aiden is apparently extremely wealthy, but neither the reader nor Elliott see him primarily through his bank account, and given that Elliott apparently cannot navigate the world without knowing exactly how he’s going to pay for big ticket items even if he’s not technically on the hook for them. For anyone who enjoys books where the two main characters are a near perfect match despite so many differences, I think you’ll enjoy this story.