Note: While it may not be imperative to read The Making of Jonty Bloom prior to reading this connecting novel, A Long Way Back, author Barbara Elsborg definitely crosses over between the two during this second story. This review does have some spoilers for the first book.
Tay has left his home in Northumberland and left behind his friend, Jonty, to begin anew in London. However, after just a few short months, Tay is addicted to painkillers, depressed, and lonely. Beneath all that he is angry– angry at Jonty, who he has had a crush on for so long and who has found himself a boyfriend and is very happy with him. Angry that Jonty didn’t listen to Tay when he told him not to date the previous boyfriend, the psycho who pushed Tay off the ladder, causing a horrific accident that left him having to relearn everything from how to speak and how to walk–something he still struggles with if his wheelchair and arm crutches are any indicator. And really angry that his recovery seems to have stalled and is taking much too long. When Tay’s parents insist he get a care worker in to help him or they will cancel their three-month vacation, Tay grudgingly agrees and that is when the guy who he briefly met busking on street corners with his dog in tow enters his life.
Ink Fallow is always looking over his shoulder and never leaving much of a trail behind him. He plays his guitar in order to get money to survive and feed the dog who somehow adopted him while he is squatting in an abandoned building. There’s a reason he keeps moving from place to place, always trying to blend in and never sticking out ,but that secret is sealed tight behind his lips and Ink will never tell another soul—or so he thinks.
For now, Ink wants to give the dog to the lonely guy in the wheelchair—the one who always looks so sad, but that’s not been easy as the guy won’t talk to him. When Ink finds out where the man lives, he has the plan to simply knock on his door and shove the dog in and run, but then he discovers Tay is interviewing help and joins the group of prospective live-in aids. He decides if he gets the job, he will only stay for a week or so, long enough to make a bit of money, give the dog to Tay, and then leave. That’s the plan, at least. But once again, things don’t always go the way Ink wishes they would.
Seeing Jonty again and his partner, Devan, is just so much fun. Also, Tay finally realizing that his anger is misplaced and motivated by jealousy is a big relief as it smooths the way to reconciliation between the two. But this novel is really all about Tay and Ink and their journey together. Ink is an incredibly tragic character, even more so than Tay, who is still recovering from the fall that caused partial brain damage and left him in a coma-like state, without the ability to communicate for way too long after the accident. Two wounded men find each other and the ensuing story is one of pain, healing, and vindication.
Ink has a terrible secret, one that has left him unable to put down roots anywhere and has kept him on the run for the last two years. Even with a new identity, he is still wary of being found and well aware of the hell that would be unleashed if others were to discover his new name and location. When the chance to be with Tay and help him comes along, Ink jumps at it, assuring himself he will stay just long enough to make sure Tay is able to cope on his own. But the two men develop feeling for each other pretty quickly and that’s when things get very complicated.
I am not sure which character squeezes my heart more—Tay who is grappling with his sexuality, his unrequited love for Jonty, and his painful recovery, or Ink, who’s had his childhood stolen from him and left with a shell of a life that will always be one he can never fully embrace. Both men fear that love will never be theirs for very different reasons. This novel is a gripping tale of second chances and of learning what is most important in life. It is a testament to what can happen when one learns to trust in another and give oneself permission to dream about a future. The ending of this novel is mind-blowing and how the author resolves a life-altering event in this story is nothing short of amazing. A Long Way Back is hopeful, romantic, and worth every one of the five stars I am giving it.