Zach Sugarman is a closeted gay football quarterback, a senior, and the star of the Northwestern University Wildcats. He’s got a long-time girlfriend, Rebecca, who he started dating while in high school back in Seattle, Oregon. Not only did she cross the country to join him in Evanston, so did his best friend, Des, who is one of the star wide receivers for the team. Rebecca, a devout Catholic, has adored Zach’s promise to wait for their wedding night to have intercourse, though he himself is not exactly chaste. Zach is a Heisman hopeful, and so he maintains the charade rigidly, only finding anonymous hook-ups for relief in places that are far form his usual stomping grounds.
While on a two-week tour of Rome with his team, Zach dips out of the final night’s festivities to find a man with whom to spend some time. That’s how he meets Liam, a beautiful man about his own age. Liam is down for sex, but Zach forestalls the intercourse offer with outercourse. Liam is surprised, but game. Orgasms are orgasms in his book. Their night is passionate, and Zach finds himself remembering it dearly once he returns to campus. On the first day of school, he meets his new advisor in Classics, Dr. Eben Barnett, and a little bit later Dr. Barnett’s younger brother…Liam.
Liam Barnett is a music major and he’s enrolled at Northwestern following a scandal at the small conservatory he’d studied at in Paris. His parents are American ex-pats living in Italy and they wanted Eben to look out for Liam, thinking he’s a bit raw from the collapse of his previous schooling experience. Liam is initially stoked to meet Zach in their Plato seminar, but Zach makes it absolutely clear their one night was one only—and he needs Liam to not tell anyone about their connection. Except, both Liam and Zach are still pretty attracted to one another. And Liam takes out his frustration having some hook-ups with new acquaintances. He’s out and proud as a bisexual and he thinks Zach is a coward.
Liam and Zach keep running into one another on campus, and soon their frustration takes a turn for the sexy. While Rebecca flits about with her sorority life, Liam and Zach begin to connect in earnest, though it all has to be on the down low. The fact that they are falling for one another is a complication neither one has anticipated.
All the Way Out is a typical college athlete coming-out story. I’ve read many, and enjoy them, which was one reason I chose this story. Another huge reason I picked this book for review is that Northwestern is my alma mater. I am also a big college sports fan, and have been for literally decades. I have two children who are/were Division 1 athletes, as was my husband. So, I have a lot of insider insights into the setting and set up of this story, and all of those are reasons I was, unfortunately, disappointed while reading this book.
There are so many inconsistencies in the facts about sports life and life on campus at Northwestern that I will admit to being disgusted, as a reader. As a small sample, no college football team travels to Italy for two weeks in the summer as a group. None. Especially not a team that’s preparing for the beginning of their season in mid-August. And, to be clear, Northwestern’s class schedule begins in mid to late September, at least three weeks after the beginning of football games for the NCAA. Even when they have a winning team, the stands are virtually empty for those early home games.
I know, however, that the myriad issues I had with the campus and athletics details will likely not impact the enjoyment of another reader who doesn’t have so much experiential knowledge. So, setting all of that aside, I also had issues with the incredible coincidences in the story. How astronomical are the odds that the one hook up Zach has, on the other side of the world no less, ends up in a highly sought after Plato senior seminar attended by likely less than fifteen students? How is he also the brother to Zach’s new advisor, a newly-minted professor who himself just arrived on campus? Also, what college would transfer a senior in the middle of his thesis to a newbie professor? Like, it’s all so inexplicable. And, then there is the cheating. Because Liam and Zach are totally shagging their brains out while Rebecca is merrily tweeting away all her admiration for Zach. For…months. This gets somehow absolved by Rebecca having her own side interests and a new boyfriend, but really? It felt incredibly mercenary—for both Rebecca and Zach. And, I get that he’s closeted, but he’s rather cavalier about the time he and Liam spend together. Meanwhile, Liam dies inside hiding his true feelings while Zach and Rebecca receive endless fuss and accolades.
Naturally, just when Zach gets himself together is when Liam gets cold feet. And the situation felt pretty manufactured, since Liam seemed all in until that very moment. There is a huge crisis that Liam needs to rise to the occasion and meet if he’s going to win back Zach. The story’s pace seemed to drag even more after that, since the reconciliations were all coming to a close, and yet the story wasn’t done. There was more melodrama involving highly unlikely events for the football team, but Liam was the unknown rock awaiting Zach’s recovery.
Overall, I was underwhelmed by this romance. It felt both formulaic and verbose, with slow pacing and paragraphs of unnecessary backstory. Like, why are we learning about the vagaries of Zach’s college recruiting trip twenty chapters in? And why is this taking up four pages? Zach wasn’t that sympathetic a character, for me, and Liam wavered from interesting to insipid. He’s got a lot of growing up to do, and I’m not sure that the several months this story spanned brought him much maturity.