In 1995, Matt Leeson has few options for his future. He’s smart and wants to go to university, but his father will not allow it and when Matt tried to plead his case, he got his father’s fist to his face. Matt has a few close friends, but none of them know Matt’s most closely guarded secret. Matt has always known he is gay and he knows it has to be a secret, but he still can’t help crushing on beautiful Alex Valentine, the boy with a great future ahead of him.
Matt and Alex become close friends and one night that line is blurred when Alex kisses Matt. Alex is all kinds of confused and he knows he isn’t gay, but he doesn’t have a word for his feelings yet. He just knows that life is better with Matt. But Matt isn’t being honest with Alex about his home life and when Alex leaves for school, Matt feels left behind. When a tragedy upends Matt’s world completely, he checks out and leaves everything behind.
Twenty-five years later, Alex is a doctor and recently divorced. After unsuccessful attempts years ago to find Matt, Alex had to move on, but he never forgot about Matt. When an unexpected and chance meeting has the men finding each other again, Matt is not the teenager that Alex remembers and his life had been unstable for years. But the spark is still there, and Alex will stand by Matt’s side to have the future they only ever dared to dream about.
Two Tribes starts as an engaging, character-driven story. We catch up with Matt and his friends getting into trouble at school and it is there that Matt meets Alex. Matt likes the way Alex looks, but he also sees Alex as everything Matt isn’t, for Alex lives in a nice house in the right part of town with parents that care about him. Matt’s home life is abusive and dismal and while much of the abuse is off page, Matt carries it with him and his thoughts are clearly displayed. Despite his home life, Matt has an upbeat, yet sometimes self-deprecating vibe, and his internal monologue is often humorous. Alex is questioning his feelings for Matt, since in 1995, Alex wasn’t familiar with being bisexual and Alex and Matt experience a lot of firsts together. Their lives inevitably move in different directions as Alex attends university and while he tries to include Matt as much as possible, Matt still feels like an outsider.
It’s when tragedy strikes that Matt checks out of his life and leaves without ever speaking to Alex again. When life moves on, it has not been kind to Matt. And, while Alex has found professional success, his personal relationships are not as successful. Alex has an ex-wife who walks all over him and it becomes painful to watch Alex yield to her time and again. When Matt and Alex meet up again after all the years have gone by, that should have been the best part of the story, but it sort of stalled out for me.
Matt and Alex almost pick up right where they left off. Matt has significant mental health challenges and, while that is discussed somewhat, they just continue on with the relationship that were building as teens and too much time had passed to make that fully plausible for me.
Matt and Alex do get the happy ever after with each other they have always dreamed about and the fulfillment of the relationship that has haunted them both for years. With tropes of friends to lovers and second chances, hindered by trauma and mental health, Two Tribes could be a contender for your next read.