Rating: 4.5 stars
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Ten years ago, Shane answered a desperate call for help from Ed Beck, a local politician who killed a woman while he was driving drunk. But instead of just getting rid of a body, Shane ended up on trial and convicted for Ed’s crime. Out of prison and feeling like he’s lost the best years of his youth, Shane wants revenge. And what better way to get back at a conservative political star than to publicly frame the man’s college-aged son as a drug dealing degenerate.
It should have been easy. But when Shane first lays eyes on Rosen, he can’t help the intense and immediate desire to claim and to corrupt the alluring young man. Suddenly, Shane shifts from a drug scandal to a sex and sexuality scandal. All Shane has to do is get the deeply closeted Rosen to fall head over heels in love with him, make a freaky sex tape, and ruin Ed’s career among his homophobic base. The thing is, Shane finds he has instant and intense chemistry with Rosen–he actually just might like the kid.
Rosen dreams of being an out and proud artist, and getting a college degree is the first step towards at least the latter part of that goal. But as long as Rosen’s father is paying for art school, Rosen will have to play by Ed’s rules, of which there is exactly one: stay in the closet. It should have been easy; after all, no part of becoming an artist requires Rosen to have sex. But when he meets Shane at a frat party, he suddenly realizes there is a lot about his sexuality that he simply cannot deny. Within moments of meeting, the two are locking lips and acting on an undeniable attraction. Soon, Rosen is drawn into an exciting, whirlwind romance with an older man who seems as exciting, as caring, and as dangerous as every fantasy Rosen’s had. And when Rosen needs help cleaning up an unfortunate mess that left one of Rosen’s frat brothers dead, Shane is supportive. Things should have been great…until an unexpected confrontation between Rosen, Shane, and his father. The encounter leaves all parties worse off. But Rosen is about to find out just how bad things can get.
Scum is the first book in K.A. Merikan’s new Wrong Side of the Tracks series. Some of the strongest themes are manipulation, revenge, and found family. The age-difference trope is delightfully off kilter because Shane is physically older, but having spent ten years in prison, he is in some ways more naive than Rosen. Mostly, the age difference felt like it centered on Shane feeling like he lost some prime years of his life more than the morality of a “hardened criminal” dating a “college kid.” I was pleasantly surprised by the found family theme in the book, though. Shane’s living situation has him staying with an old (and older) friend named Frank who runs and lives at a junkyard. While Shane and Frank have a true bond, Shane is less friendly with the two others who also live with Frank. One is Frank’s fast-and-easy nephew and the other is a sort of vagrant who reminds me of nothing so much as a wanna be Mad Max. Yet over the course of the book and as Shane slowly introduces Rosen into his junkyard home, the more these strained connections evolve into actual relationships. And it all resolves into a wonderful patchwork family.
As far as the romance between Shane and Rosen goes, it starts off hot and just gets hotter. Almost from the start, Shane is a goner for Rosen. The first hint is how Shane immediately pans his first revenge-against-Ed-Beck plan of planting drugs on Rosen in favor of a gay sex scandal. It’s only a few meet-ups from there before it’s clear Shane is only fooling himself into thinking he’s only dedicating time and energy into his relationship with Rosen for the sake of ruining the man. For me, a big part of the appeal of this lovers’ dynamic were Shane and Rosen’s personalities. Shane has definitely seen and done a lot; he freely admits he ought to have gone to jail, just not for a hit-and-run he didn’t commit. Rosen is a fancy and free artsy guy who loves unconditionally and doesn’t hold people’s actions against them unnecessarily. It was just very satisfying how Rosen immediately feels comfortable with Shane and Shane eats it up. That said, Shane consistently reminds himself he isn’t really courting Rosen and this finally gains traction during a big confrontation. I liked the deep betrayal that follows this confrontation, but it does require content warnings for readers sensitive to non-consensual sexual activity.
After the betrayal scene, I really appreciated the planning and thought that went into describing the aftermath. Both characters reevaluate where they are in their lives and I think the way each man copes with the fallout shows that they have learned from the experience. At the same time, that experience helps them realize that now is the time for them to go after what they want in their lives. I truly enjoyed the way we see Shane, and to a lesser extent Rosen, grapple with what’s happened and try to make the best of it. All the while, they inch closer to coming to terms with the conflict and mending bridges.
Overall, I really enjoyed Scum. The obvious themes of revenge and instalove worked extremely well with the MCs. I liked the supporting cast and how the relationships Shane has with them go through small, but identifiable changes. The pacing was well thought out with the big emotional scene falling well ahead of the ending, so there was ample time for the MCs to react to what happened. This made for a satisfying ending that didn’t feel rushed. Overall, if you like the idea of bad boys, age gaps, manic pixie boys, and a betrayal arc that I think echoes hurt/comfort, then I think you’ll enjoy this book.