Desperate for a place to live after having walked out on his ex-girlfriend, Ethan answers a roommate wanted ad placed by college junior, Rhett. They both attend university full time, but Ethan has been supplementing his herpetology studies with volunteer work at a local animal rescue and Rhett spends as much time in class as he does working as a bartender. Given such busy schedules, the two are rarely at home at the same time. When they are, they can read one another’s moods so well, they’ve been able to avoid any roommate drama. So when Ethan’s horrible ex-girlfriend digs her heels in and refuses to return Ethan’s pet lizard, Rhett takes it upon himself to spend a rare night-off from bartending to cheer Ethan up with pizza and beer. As the beers flow, however, the roommates’ discussion shifts from commiseration to comfort, finally culminating in Rhett and Ethan sharing an inebriated, but definitely electrifying, kiss. The only problem: Ethan has only ever identified as straight and Rhett is a gay man who believes his schedule means he’s only available for one-night stands.
But there is a solution: a simple, handwritten contract between Ethan and Rhett that is designed to provide a framework through which the roommates can take advantage of living together to help Ethan explore his newly discovered bisexuality. At first, things are great. Rhett is kind and attentive in helping Ethan experience intimacy with another man. He also helps Ethan deal with a monstrous ex, while also being there for his younger siblings as they navigate high school. And Ethan enjoyes realizing how deeply he can feel a connection to another person—something that was absolutely lacking in his limited number of hetero relationships. Too bad things snowball hard and fast for both young men. Ethan fears he’s falling for Rhett, a gay man who Ethan knows for a fact prefers no-strings attached hook-ups. Meanwhile, Rhett is afraid Ethan is simply looking to cross sexual experiences off the contract they both agreed to. When the terms of the contract are finally met, will there be anything more to keep Rhett and Ethan together, or will they let the best thing that’s happened to them wither under the weight of their hidden feelings?
Tapped by My Roommate is D.J. Jamison’s third book in the Thrust into Love series. Unlike the second book in the series, Matched by my Rival, the hook-up app “Thrust” plays a far smaller role, though it still crops up as a handy device to get Ethan and Rhett together without them meaning to. The story unfolds in dual perspectives. Most, if not all, chapters are split between first-person narrative from Ethan’s or from Rhett’s perspective. For a story like this where both characters have major caveats to freely expressing how they feel about the other, I thought the frequent shift in perspective worked very well. I also thought Jamison did an excellent job developing Ethan’s insecurities about falling for fast-and-casual Rhett and Rhett’s insecurities about being worthy of passionate Ethan’s affections.
Along with the big plot device of Ethan and Rhett drawing up a literal agreement about becoming friends with benefits, there are a lot of layers to how the characters fall in love with each other. I really liked how this happened gradually, starting from a simple acknowledgement that there was some level of physical attraction they shared. At the same time, the dual perspectives allowed the sense of unrequited love to grow stronger and stronger the longer these two attempted to share physical intimacy without letting emotions get involved. Things slowly slide from pure “I liked kissing you” to “I don’t want to kiss anyone else,” all while both characters increasingly fear their growing feelings could not possibly be returned. I found this satisfying because it felt like each little slide into love felt well supported by the characters’ thoughts and actions. Similarly, the way Ethan and Rhett discover their love is reciprocal was layered as well. Usually, I feel like unrequited love questions are best resolved with a single “aha!” type of scene, but Jamison pulls off a staggered revelation that I thought fit the pacing of the story very well.
The characters themselves are also interesting to read about. Ethan is quirky with his nerdy side, loving lizards, Godzilla, and dressing up with bow ties and suspenders. Rhett is sporty and cool, the quintessential hot-guy with a heart of gold and a bit of a hero complex. Not only do these two fall in love, but they also grow in their own right on page. Ethan basically grows a spine; he learns how to stand up for himself and how to go after what he wants. Meanwhile, Rhett comes to grips with the way he feels like he has to sacrifice himself for the sake of those close to him; he learns it’s okay to ask for help and that moral support is often just as important as active support. The only thing I was a bit iffy on was the way Rhett seems to finally realize Ethan is “hot.” This was such a tiny bit of the narrative, but the way it plays out in the prose makes it feel oddly emphasized and at a point where it was clear Rhett was falling for Ethan. As silly as it seems, making Rhett explicitly state Ethan is “hot” and in response to someone else flirting with Ethan took away some of Ethan’s street cred as a dorky nerd who loved lizards and Godzilla.
Overall, I think Jamison delivers a fantastic book that presents fun tropes like drunken kisses and unrequited love in ways that really do the concepts justice. The two main characters are compelling and interesting, not just as love interests but as characters. Their interests and life choices are things that just happen to them, but actually form connections between them. If you like stories about coming out, characters discovering new facets to their sexuality, unrequited love themes, and coming of age themes for both jocks and geeks, then I think you’ll find a lot to love about Tapped by My Roommate.