Zach Matthews and Brady Wellman meet at a turning point in their young lives. They are both about age thirteen and have had a lot of trauma in their lives. Zach’s mom is negligent and his father abusive; he regularly beats or starves Zach to “purify his soul” from evil. Zach is home-schooled by his inattentive mother, who leaves him alone most days to spend time with her lover. Brady’s family has moved to Zach’s small town to escape the sorrow of losing his younger brother, Owen, to cancer. Brady’s family is wealthy; his father a judge and mother an attorney. Their house is a mansion compared to Zach’s place, and they live on opposite sides of a wood where the boys meet that first time, both lost in sorrow, Zach for a recent beating and Brady over losing Owen.
They develop a strong friendship, once Brady’s father makes assurances that Zach will not come under demon secular influences while visiting their home—like TV, video games, sufficient food, or sugary drinks. Not that the Wellman family holds back any privileges or affection to Zach, who is starving for those nearly as much as food. He’s woefully undersized and malnourished under his father’s malevolent care. As the years pass, Brady looks at Zach as a replacement brother, but Zach knows he loves Brady as more than that. As a man would love another man—if it weren’t so sinful. He’s terrified to reveal his secret, but he has little choice once Zach’s father beats him near to death and Brady’s parents take him in for good.
But, Zach doesn’t reveal all of himself. He confesses to being gay, but he doesn’t admit to loving Brady. Brady, who shelters Zach through his introduction to public school and makes sure bullies do not torment him for being undersized or gay. Zach struggles with PTSD and anxiety disorder after his traumatic youth and abuse. Brady and his friend, Connor, are there through it all, keeping Zach from harm. High school is nearly over when Zach’s father makes a reappearance, and this time it’s even worse. His mother has long since abandoned him, but the Wellmans have truly made him a part of the family. And, well, Brady and Zach have plans.
This book is about the tight bonds that people make, and how their love can manifest in unexpected ways. As they complete high school and move into career training and college, Zach is 100% committed to Brady, never expecting Brady to reciprocate his love. And, frankly, scared to death that Brady will reject his love and it will shatter the one family that cares for him. They are supposed to live together, sharing a home and bed, though platonically. Zach will do this because he can’t fathom his life without Brady in it—even if they are only cuddling friends. Brady isn’t sure how, but he’s developed an inexplicable attraction to Zach. Their time spent cuddling his queen bed is far more fulfilling and exciting than any of the kisses he’s endured from the girls who chased him in high school. Brady’s other close friend, Connor, doesn’t elicit any kind of sexual attraction, though Brady can objectively find him an attractive looking man. So, Brady isn’t gay, right? Or, bisexual? Yet, Brady is absolutely a jealous rage monster when he thinks Zach is falling for another man.
And, that prompts Brady to propose the most dangerous of all their connections: to help Zach practice sex. So, he won’t be scared to approach a gay man. In this adventure, Brady has to come to terms with his inability to bond with anyone besides Zach, and if that means anything about his sexuality at all.
This was kind of an epic storyline, spanning about six years of Zach and Brady’s young lives. They endure a lot of hard times and build a relationship that works for them—even though Brady is completely oblivious to Zach’s ardent love. For me, this was a long read, and I felt like it meandered a lot, focusing in so hard on how “normal” this experience was for Brady and Zach, this closeness and affection without there being mutual attraction. It was one example after another of Brady being the hero and Zach starry-eyed and scared. That became kind of boring after a while. Their absolute wealth was another issue, for me, as this fiscal agency made these teen boys read way older. Their zero money struggles, due to trust funds and inherited wealth, added a convenience factor that felt complacent. Such agency enabled them to move on to cohabitation by the easiest path possible. This removal of conflict made it hard to see character growth, beyond what was overtly telegraphed: deep longing throughout their temporary separation prompting big choices and necessary changes.
The pacing was slow, for me, and though I was invested in the story, it seemed to drag. The foreshadowing was present, but took a long time to develop. I liked Connor, and I was happy to see he got a happy ending. I’m glad that Zach and Brady found their happy ending, too. I think I would have liked the story better if it had faster pacing and perhaps less high school melodrama.