When Kai accepted the invitation to Connor Mitchell’s graduation party, he knew it was a pity invite. After all, wealthy and white Connor only seemed to need Kai for his chemistry prowess. Nevertheless, Kai went to the party and mostly enjoyed the scene…right up until he bumped into Connor in a secluded hallway and Connor proceeded to kiss him senseless. That one moment of unadulterated passion has haunted Kai for the last five years. But while Kai has pretty much stayed stationary working the same bartending job in the same town where he grew up, Connor has moved on to bigger and better things—all with his high school sweetheart by his side. Which is why Kai is stunned when he finds Connor sitting at his bar, no girlfriend in sight, and apparently back in town for good.
Connor Mitchell’s life only looked perfect on the outside. It has taken him five long years to work up the courage to break free from the expectations everyone seems to have for a proverbial trust-fund baby. By literally leaving his past and returning to his hometown, Connor hopes to get what he really wants: a chance with Kai. Connor has his sights set and will stop anyone he feels comes between him and Kai—no matter if it’s Kai’s lifelong best friend or the poltergeist that’s recently started to haunt Kai’s apartment. But as much as Connor wants to build a future with Kai, he hasn’t quite broken up with his past. Connor soon learns that getting Kai was the easy part, it’s keeping him and their happiness as a couple that is going to be the hard part.
The Haunting Crush is a contemporary novel by author Christine Gordon. It’s set in the American southwest—Phoenix, Arizona specifically—and the author takes a lot of care to give readers an impression of the desert. Our two romantic leads seemingly have a lot of opposites attract potential. Connor is the clean cut, all-American, high school jock with rich parents and a privileged life. Kai is dirt poor and a quarter Navajo, with an emotionally abusive mother. Unfortunately, that delightful trope felt like is was a distant second compared to the controlling dominant/desperate submissive dynamic that develops.
We know very early on that Kai had a huge crush on Connor in high school and when they reunite five years later, all those teenage emotions come rushing back to Kai. During the brief high school scene, I thought Connor’s actions and reactions to kissing the boy he had chemistry with worked well. I was far less enamored with Connor as an adult. Just about every aspect of his behavior felt like the kind of things that get called out for being red flags. Connor is frequently jealous of Kai’s best friend; he wants to put limits on who Kai can be friends with in general (but no limits for him); he lies about who is going out with and what they are doing. To an extent, all this triggering behavior gets sort of addressed when we learn the truth about Connor and his past. That said, I feel like Connor’s behavior comes across as more controlling and gaslighting, and the explanation about why he behaves like that gets splashed out far too late for it to redeem Connor in my eyes.
Conversely, there is Kai. At first, I was eager to read about him. The boy who never got over his high school crush was finally getting a chance with the boy of his dreams. That said, the more I watched how Connor treated Kai, the more I was just hoping Kai would finally say he’d had enough of Connor’s double standards, half-truths, and secrets. I think Kai accepts Connor’s behavior because he is used to being given the brush off by his own mother, but that connection isn’t nearly as clear as it could or perhaps ought to have been. Even more stunning is how Kai understands that his mother unequivocally blames Kai for his own father’s death, just like he knows his mother rejects his being gay. But when we finally meet his mother on page? She seems charmed by the white guy (Connor), who then also seems to convince Kai that he simply misunderstood his own mother’s behavior. That she isn’t homophobic, but just giving “tough love” to make sure Kai really is gay…?
The ghost activity in the book revolves around what the MCs call a poltergeist. Mostly, Kai and his roommate come home to their kitchen cabinets open and the contents thereof in disarray. The bulk of this happens off page while both living residents are at work; the one time it happens while they are home is what triggers them to move in…with Connor. Ultimately, the lack of interaction between any of the MCs and real-time haunting activity was a big let down for me. The whole “Kai’s apartment is haunted” felt more like an excuse to get and keep Kai and Connor living in the same space and the resolution to the haunting was stunningly anticlimactic. Fans of paranormal and haunted places stories will likely be disappointed at how much of a nothing burger an actual, demonstrable ghostly presence in this book is.
Overall, I didn’t care much for this book. I was not prepared for how problematic I found Connor and did not enjoy how his behavior gets a magical pass in the eleventh hour. Kai’s readiness to accept what Connor offers in a relationship makes sense, but it’s not as clearly connected to his equally problematic relationship with his mother. To say nothing of how that whole character-defining mother/son relationship seems to vanish completely after a single meeting with Connor. On top of that, the whole paranormal side of things felt grossly underdeveloped. If you like stories with controlling characters like Connor or characters who, by choice or by chance, get controlled, then you may enjoy this story.