Will Avery has struggled his whole life to come to terms with who he is. As a ranger with the forest service in Alaska, he’s found a home and a quiet life. Will is lonely, but he thinks that’s how it has to be. No one can know the truth of who he is: a gay, transgender man. Solitude is a comfort for Will in a lot of ways. Until the summer season of 1991 when a group of wolf biologists come to Denali to count and study the wolf packs. And Will meets Nikhil Rajawat.
Nikhil is a taciturn and aloof scientist who chooses to ride along with Will. Will doesn’t mind, though he doesn’t share his colleagues fervor and awe of the man. He’s interested in Nikhil for other reasons. As the season progresses, the closer they become, and Nikhil becomes the first person to ever know the full truth about Will. The connection they make is strong, but it can’t last. And when September comes, and Will puts his heart on the line, everything crashes between them. Angry words and accusations drive them even further apart.
A year later, Will is surprised and angry to find Nikhil back at camp. Especially when last year was supposed to be the man’s last hurrah, never to work with the wolves again. It takes a long time to get over the anger and hurt, and it’s not an easy process. But the trust and love they found the year before resurfaces, and after time and conversation—and a whole lot of honesty—they finally find a place where they can love and have a future.
I snatched this book up the moment I saw the author’s name, having read and loved Beaumont’s debut novel. And I was not disappointed. I only had one issue with the book as a whole, and it’s a personal preference. This story is told in a non-linear fashion, which is not something I generally enjoy. My brain is wired to prefer linear storytelling, because going back and forth to fill in the pieces is not something I enjoy. This book begins in April of 1991, and then jumps to April of 1992. It continues in that fashion, May 1991, then May 1992, etc until we get to where the story ends in September of 1992. It’s a testament to the author’s ability that after about the first quarter of the book, I fell into the rhythm and was eagerly looking forward to each jump. Would I still have preferred it be told linearly? Yes, I would have, and I don’t think it would have diminished anything in the book had it been written that way. But considering that was my only problem with the book, I’m disposed to let that slide.
The author has a gift for thorough storytelling, a fully immersive experience that sucks the reader into the world he’s created and transporting us to a different time and place. The narrative is descriptive and evocative, eliciting emotion and feelings that make the reading experience wholly captivating. That alone would have me picking up this book again and again, just to feel along with Will as he navigates this new, scary, and wonderful life.
And this is Will’s story. It’s told in first person, and it is his journey. Considering the time period this story takes place, it makes absolute sense how fearful he is of anyone finding out his truth. His past, his childhood and upbringing, has also colored his world view. Will’s emotions, feelings, and thoughts were portrayed clearly on the page, and with each step he made forward, there were also steps back. I felt everything along with him, my heart hurting for him as he tried to figure out his life as it is now. The fear, the joy, the connection between Will and Nikhil. Nikhil’s pain and worry as he shows Will parts of himself, reveals his own truth. Because Nikhil has his own set of baggage, stemming from his culture and upbringing, as well as choices he’s made in the past. And though their relationship is not easy for a variety of reasons, the tender way they love each other makes it all worth it in the end.
I don’t have words to do this book justice, to be honest. It’s a book best experienced, and I whole heartedly suggest you do that. There’s certainly a lot of angst and heartbreak. There’s animal death and scary moments. But at its heart, it’s two men living their truth in a time and place where they can’t openly do that, and yet still find a way back to each other and a way to make a life together work.