Story Rating: 5 stars
Audio Rating: 5 stars
Narrator: Piers Ryman
Length: 5 hours, 20 minutes
Good things come in threes.
Seb, left alone at home to watch penguin documentaries while Jay is off with eleven other men playing football, has had the most wonderful idea. He wants a baby. Well, he wants his and Jay’s baby, and Anne — Jay’s best friend and ex-girlfriend — volunteers to be their surrogate. Gay marriage has been declared legal, which means Seb and Jay can finally get married! None of this commitment ceremony crap. No, Seb wants a wedding, with flowers and tuxedos. And now he’s going to get it.
Jay’s being asked to play for the English team, which means the World Cup. It’s something Jay never thought he’d have, considering he’s out and proud (and with Seb at his side, loudly gay). But a stroke of poor fortune for another player gives Jay the chance he’s always wanted.
This is the fourth and final book in the District Line series, and it’s a wonderful way to say goodbye to two of my favorite characters. Seb, with his heart of gold hidden behind the sharp, jagged edges of anger and hurt who learned to let go and trust that it’s okay to be vulnerable, and it’s okay to need someone. And Jay, always willing to put his head down and do his duty and not rock the boat, who learned to lift his head high and do what’s right for himself. They’ve had ups and downs, they’ve had fights and makeup sex. They’ve had heart-to-heart conversations about trust and love, and they always have each other’s backs.
This story takes a moment to show some of the other relationships, such as Seb and his bandmates, Martin and Noah. We see how they support him, how he leans on them, and how much he’d do for them. The three of them were friends, and now they’re family, and it’s a support system Seb has always needed but been afraid to lean on. There’s also the relationship between Seb and his father, which has always been a fragile one. For Seb, with his own child on the way, it’s a chance to understand that the parent he had wasn’t the one he wanted, but his father still loved him in his own way, and their conversation was just lovely.
Jay has an introspective turn in this book, though he’s always been a thoughtful man. To know how much football means to him, to know how much he fought to be welcomed despite being gay, and to always doubt how much of a welcome their truly was … it’s been a constant struggle for him. All of the doubts he’s always had have never been about Seb’s support, but the club. Would other players play with him, back him up, treat him like they treat anyone else? Would the fans boo him for being a poof, or would they cheer for him, too? But Jay’s proven himself, again and again, and it’s nice to see him finally be confident in his own worth.
There is, as always, lovely, snarky banter. C.F. White excels at dialogue, especially when Seb and Jay fight. I think I enjoy their fights more than their flirtation because you can see how well Seb and Jay understand themselves, and understand each other. After so many years they know the way the other man thinks, and they also know that, no matter what, they belong to one another. Their fights are emotional and sincere, but they never try to hurt one another. This series is worth every accolade I can throw at it, both in book form and audio book. (Having reviewed the Extra Time in book form as well as audio, I should know.)
Narrated, as always, by Piers Ryman, the audio version is so well done. He nails the emotionality of the characters, whether Seb is snarling or yelling or smirking … or sobbing into the phone and begging Jay to comfort him. He also gives Jay’s voice a depth and patience that fits perfectly with the character. Even in doing the little in-betweens of reviews or sports commentary that are interspersed between chapters, Ryman manages to catch the tone and energy needed to keep the story’s energy up.
If you like audio books, I highly recommend the audio version. Ryman’s one of those narrators who, for me, adds layers of enjoyment to a book with the understanding he brings to the characters and the skill he uses in bringing them to life.