Robin Pavasaris bears the surname of an ultra wealthy family from Connecticut, though he only sees the patriarch—his father, Filip—once a year at best. Otherwise, Robin has been left to the indifferent care of his mother, a woman who sees Robin only as a tool to extract ever greater sums of money from Filip. Now that Robin is coming of age and looking to escape his mother’s stifling home, she has one last ploy: Robin must wheedle his trust fund out of his father and give it to his mother. Failure to do so means more than just being kicked out of the only home he’s ever known. It means his own mother will resort to sharing revenge porn she made of her own son with his school tutor to ensure Robin gets cut off from all branches of his own family.
With nothing left to lose and a true desire to actually spend time with the man who fathered him, Robin agrees. His father’s home is a literal island off the coast of Connecticut, accessible only by ferry or private vessel. And the inhabitants are every bit as socially and emotionally distant from Robin as the island is literally distant from the mainland. Even his father seems trapped under the thumb of his wife, Regina. The woman rules the home with an iron fist. Her every waking thought is devoted to glorifying god. Though it seems she hopes to achieve godliness by haranguing others about their endless sins and seems to be convinced that a stairway to heaven may be built if only one has enough money. She’s also a vociferous homophobe. All that is bad enough, but Robin’s half-brother, Myke, is the icing on the cake: he’s a two-faced liar who revels in the very sins for which he condemns others.
The only sliver of hope for this new life Robin has is his second older half-brother, Alex. The man is interesting and kind, skilled at art, and tender of heart. He is also unfathomably handsome and that’s just the beginning of the taboo thoughts Robin begins to harbor for his brother. Even more difficult is the tantalizing thought that perhaps Alex might return some bit of Robin’s romantic feelings. But not even the goodness they find in one another can fend off their perfidious mother or their elder brother.
Robin is a novel set in the late 90s and features a young adult cast in high turmoil. The strongest themes in the book are poor-little-rich-boy, hyper-conservatism, religion, and sexual taboos (chiefly incestuous feelings between brothers). This is the first book in Carrington’s Birds of a Feather series and, arguably, ends with a double cliffhanger.
I was tantalized by the idea of a story about two brothers falling in love. To wit, this is not a “I never knew we were related” story; Robin and Alex know full well that they are related from the beginning. Even before they meet, they are generally aware of how many sons their father and respective mothers have had. That said, the pacing really takes the focus off this aspect of the story until the last quarter of the book. We start with a detailed look at how Robin spends his days while living with his biological mother, complete with a fake (that Robin believes is real) student/tutor romance. For me, this lengthy introduction to Robin solidifies the ideas that Robin truly wants human connection more than any kind of material wealth and the fact that even the few relationships he has while living under his mother’s roof are shallow ones at best. This has a significant impact on how he approaches and reacts to his father’s side of the family, especially when he still thinks he can prevail to their good natures. That said, it did feel like this took an inordinate amount of time to set up before moving onto Robin living with his father, stepmother, and half-siblings. Even less appealing to me as a reader was coming to the realization that none of these early scenes directly impact the action later in the book.
Once the action moves to the island where Robin’s father—and now Robin, for the summer at least—lives, the story takes a firmer turn into fantastical melodrama. Every character seems to embody a single trait and then proceeds to ooze that trait with every word and action. Robin’s stepmother wields her religion like a club to subjugate anyone with whom she disagrees—and she disagrees with everyone who isn’t her eldest son. Myke is a two-faced-son-of-a-bitch with a tongue of pure silver—everything he says, does, and is irritates just exactly like it is supposed to. This character, more than any others, is one whose comeuppance I am eagerly anticipating. And Robin’s father is a shining example of someone not getting what they want and not knowing how to cope with what they have. With rare exception, he just follows the path of least resistance—unsurprisingly, this typically means he does whatever his wife wants.
In addition to characters that excel at being one-dimensional, the relationship that develops between Alex and Robin is also painted with similarly broad strokes. The initial few meetings are set up like Alex and Robin are a non-starter. Robin comes to the island wary of the ultra wealthy and his experience with his hypocritically devout stepmother does not endear him to the family or the family to him. So when Alex warns Robin not to trust any of them, that gets a big “duh” from Robin. But Alex also says Robin shouldn’t trust Alex himself…even though Alex clearly feels just as stifled by his own family as Robin does. As it unfolds on page, though, this gives way to desperate feelings of romantic love for one another over the course of…a few drawing sessions. Somehow, the simple act of Alex drawing Robin provides enough interaction for these two to throw all caution to the wind and fall head over heels in love with each other. Both, of course, think their taboo feelings are unrequited. Until they realize they aren’t.
Overall, I thought the pacing of the book was a bit lacking. I commend the author for their dedication to showing and not telling about Robin’s various home lives. I appreciated having first-hand knowledge of just how deeply Robin’s class has affected him. That said, I thought this linear treatment of Robin’s life story caused the real meat-and-potatoes elements of the book—his getting to know how much he loathes his father’s side of the family, their abject disregard for anyone but themselves, and falling for his own half-brother—to become almost comically melodramatic. We spend chapters watching Robin pine for his tutor, but end up whipping through Robin having a friends-with-benefits situations before finally cracking his incestuous feelings for Alex. Nevertheless, the big revelations at the very end present some tantalizing problems for Robin and Alex to overcome in forthcoming installments. Readers who enjoy a slow build up with a cliffhanger ending will probably appreciate the structure of this story.