Rating: 4.5 stars
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Only You is the third and final book in Leta Blake’s wonderful ’90s Coming of Age series. This series follows about a year and a half in Peter Mandel’s life as he falls in love, faces heartache, and finds himself as the person he is meant to be. The books follow directly upon one another and this review will reveal key plot points from the earlier books. If you are intrigued by this excellent series, be sure to check out my review for the first book, Pictures of You.
Things have ended once and for all between Peter and Adam. Peter has finally come to see that Adam does not make him happy, can never truly make him happy. Even more, Peter now understands that when he is with Adam, he is not the man he wants to be. There is too much lying, too much dishonesty, and too much secrecy. Peter has also realized that the person he truly wants to explore a relationship with is Daniel. Peter knows he hurt Daniel back in Nashville, knows Daniel may not forgive him, and that he may not even deserve forgiveness. But he can’t help but try.
To Peter’s surprise, Daniel does forgive him and he wants to explore a relationship between them. The heat and passion they share is intense, but there is also a sense of comfort and safety that Peter is experiencing for the first time with a partner. Things are not all smooth sailing for the men, however. Daniel’s alcoholic mother continues to make things stressful for Daniel at home. He has moved back to the family house to help be a buffer for his younger siblings, but he knows they need more than he can give. He wants to believe his mother can get her life back together after her latest trip to rehab, but he has been burned before enough to be wary. Their group of friends are enjoying being young and out and living their lives, but the thread of HIV/AIDS is a specter that still hangs over all of them. And even as Peter is moving forward with Daniel, Adam still wants Peter back in his life and is getting increasingly persistent in his attempts to convince Peter to give him another chance. Daniel and Peter have a lot to work through and life isn’t always easy. But they have found a great love and happiness with one another, and if they can lean on and trust each other, they may find their way to a great future together.
With Only You, Leta Blake does such a beautiful job wrapping up Peter’s emotional and intense journey. The first two books released back in 2016 and this was originally intended to be a series of four books released in closer succession. However, Blake is just now releasing this final book and the series has turned into a trilogy (the first two books have also been recovered and re-published). As I noted, these books form one long, continuous story and you really need to read them in order. While I did re-read my past reviews before starting Only You, I didn’t go back and re-read the books themselves and I did struggle in some places to remember details. Blake doesn’t really do much to refresh readers on past events, and for the most part that was fine, but you definitely need some familiarity with the story to follow along here.
As the series title suggests, these books all deliver on a coming-of-age journey for Peter. In the first book, we see him fall in love and build this wild, complicated, and problematic relationship with Adam. Then, in You are Not Me, we start to see him transition, still caught in the web of his relationship with Adam, but also starting to realize how unhealthy it all is. He begins to explore a connection with Daniel that helps him see what true love, caring, and affection should be like beyond the toxicity of his relationship with Adam. Peter realizes he doesn’t like the person he is with Adam, that he hates the dishonesty, and that he can never really be happy with Adam the way things are. And here, we see Peter finally moving forward and beginning to explore not just his feelings for Daniel, but also coming into his own as a person he wants to be. This series is all about the journey, and we see it for Peter here as well. At first, it almost felt like if Adam suddenly could stop lying and commit to him, Peter would be tempted. But as the story develops, Peter comes to realize that it is well and truly over. That he doesn’t love Adam anymore, that he doesn’t want to be part of a relationship that leads to so much lying and pain, and that even without Daniel, he would never want to be with Adam again.
I loved Daniel and Peter as a couple and there is such a sweet steadiness to the two of them together. Daniel is a man who can love Peter, who will be there for him, and who he can love and be there for in return. It takes some time for both of them, and the story explores the issue of trust, both between them and for Daniel with regard to his mother. Blake sets the situation up well as we see Daniel struggle with his alcoholic mother who has let him down time and again. He wants to trust her, but he also has to harden himself somewhat to avoid getting hurt and letting her hurt his younger siblings. The issue of trust also plays out with Daniel and Peter, as they need to move forward from the way Peter hurt Daniel in the past. Daniel wants to open his heart fully, and he is wary, but Peter is determined to prove that he is there for Daniel and will never hurt him again. Daniel is a man who wants to take care of everyone, who holds himself to such a high standard, and he needs Peter to help him see he can’t be perfect and that doing his best is enough. There is just a lovely sense of support between them, each man being there at different points for the other. There is also a lot of heat here as they explore their physical connection and it is all so sweet and romantic and just lovely.
This series takes place in the early ’90s and I realized I am just about exactly Peter’s age, so for me, this story hits that perfect nostalgic note. I was a college student at just the same time as Peter; I listened to the same music and did many of the same things. Blake does such a great job transporting readers back to that time, which isn’t always easy in a near historical that is not quite present day, but seems not too far gone for many readers either. I love the way Blake incorporates music into her titles and I can’t tell you how many times I listened to the titular song, Only You by Yaz, at that age. The song plays a really important role in the story and I could hear it in my head during some key moments and it really brought things to life. Also, no story about young gay men in the early ’90s would be real without the specter of AIDS hanging over it to some extent. Blake does a really nice job here of showing that fear, the reality that getting HIV at that time was a death sentence, and the way it affected gay men in particular. Be aware that this story does deal with HIV/AIDS pretty head on as well, both in the death of a side character, as well as another character testing HIV+. My only small complaint here is that I wish that story thread regarding this character had just a tiny bit more closure. But there are some intense and profound moments here and Blake handles it well.
What I loved most about this series is watching Peter’s journey to really find himself and come into his own. He starts the series as an uncertain teen, not really knowing who he wants to be or how to maneuver through life, and ends it confident, strong, and happy. This is a lovely journey and this series is well worth reading. I just loved it and can recommend it highly.