For the last seven years, Scott has been secretly writing to his best friend’s father in prison. Jay would get letters from his father, but refused to ever talk about them and threw them away unread. So, one day, Scott read an unopened letter from Jay’s dad to find out more about what was upsetting his friend. When he learned about their estrangement, Scott reached out to Griff in prison in attempt to bridge the gap between father and son. However, over the years, Scott formed his own bond with Griff and the two have developed a friendship through their letters. But nothing prepares Scott for Griff unexpectedly being released from prison and showing up on his doorstep.
Griff has long regretted his failed relationship with his son and hopes that now that he has been released early, he can reconcile with him. However, Scott makes it clear that Jay is not ready and will not react well to finding out Griff is in town. He also definitely won’t be happy to find out that Scott and Griff have been corresponding all these years without him knowing. So Griff agrees to wait while Scott tries to ease the way with Jay. In the meantime, Scott and Griff continue the friendship and connection they started building when Griff was in prison. While Scott may have misrepresented his appearance in his letters, Griff still finds himself majorly attracted to Scott (and unexpectedly so, as Griff has never been interested in men before).
Scott and Griff find themselves falling hard for each other and soon begin to envision a real future together. But Jay is still angry at his father for all those missing years, and wants nothing to do with Griff. And he certainly isn’t going to be happy to learn that Griff is dating his best friend. Now, Scott and Griff have to figure out how to make their relationship work in the midst of the conflict with Jay.
The Nerd & the Ex-Con is an age gap, best-friend’s dad story featuring an ex-con and a geeky hero who is wild between the sheets. There were some elements here that I enjoyed and I think the writing is fine overall, but there were also places where I really struggled this one. On the plus side, I appreciated that we see Scott as a multi-dimensional character who is very reserved publicly (he uses exclamations like “Butterscotch!” and “Snickerdoodle” rather than swearing). But at the same time, he enjoys much more wild abandon in his sex life. I liked that we see Griff encourage Scott not to be embarrassed about his desires and Scott has a nice progression where he becomes more comfortable owning his sexuality. I also think it’s nice that the story doesn’t stigmatize Griff for his time in jail and he gets generally positive acceptance from folks. There are some sweet and playful moments between Scott and Griff and for folks who like a lot of sex content in their stories, there is plenty here to enjoy.
However, I struggled a lot with much of the story, starting from the setup. While the blurb does indicate Scott is secretly writing to Griff, what it doesn’t say is that despite Jay being very clear he doesn’t want to talk about the letters, Scott decides to go through the trash and read them anyway. Then he writes to Griff in prison behind Jay’s back. Jay, who is his best friend. And this goes on for years. Scott tells Griff he is writing to him to “fill in the gaps for both of you,” but then acknowledges that since Jay doesn’t know he is writing, this is really only for Griff and doesn’t benefit Jay at all. Scott then proceeds to send pictures of Jay and update Griff on Jay’s life for years behind Jay’s back, despite the fact that Jay is extremely clear he wants no interaction with Griff, and Scott knows Jay would be upset if he found out. So things started off rocky, as I immediately felt angry at Scott for his behavior.
Both Scott and Griff claim over and over how much they care about Jay, how much he is their priority, but nothing they do actually shows that. Aside from the fact that Scott is sneaking these letters, he then hides from Jay that Griff is in town once he is released. Worse, he continues to regularly see Griff and then start a romantic and sexual relationship behind Jay’s back, knowing how hurt Jay would be. Maybe Scott has a right to prioritize his relationship with Griff over his relationship with Jay, but then own it. Instead, he keeps claiming that all he cares about is Jay and that he wants to help him and Griff reconnect. For his part, Griff is estranged from his son and says he wants to make things right with him. Again, the way to do that is not to sleep with your son’s best friend. Particularly given it is clear that Jay and Scott have both only had each other for years. So when Scott and Griff prioritize each other, they are leaving Jay with no one. Maybe if these guys just owned up to it, it would be better, but this constant claiming Jay was their priority seemed disingenuous considering their actions.
The two main conflicts here are the situation with Jay and an issue with Scott’s ex. We learn that Scott was abused by his ex and coerced into sexual situations that made him uncomfortable. It is not very explicit, mostly recounted as past events, but be aware if this is an area of sensitivity. I liked that we ultimately see Scott take steps to resolve the issue of his ex continuing to bother and threaten him, so there is a degree of closure there. But I did find myself bothered that at one point, Scott feels like he needs to clear the air with his ex because he realizes he was emotionally invested in Griff and writing him letters while they were dating. So it feels like this suggestion that Scott is somehow partially to blame for their breakup and that didn’t sit well with me. His ex beat him, abused him verbally, coerced him into uncomfortable sexual encounters, and more. The fact that Scott may have had a crush on his prison pen pal doesn’t make him partly responsible for their relationship failing.
The other conflict is, of course, with Jay. I’ve already noted my concerns about the way Griff and Scott both act. But I also feel like this whole thing then gets resolved super easily at the end with zero real communication. Jay eventually just forgives both of them. Neither Scott nor Griff ever sit down and really apologize or take the time to listen to Jay’s feelings. After being mad at Griff his whole life, Jay just moves on without them ever really working through anything. It just seemed too easy given that the whole book rests on this conflict and the forgiveness didn’t seem earned by either Scott or Griff.
Ok, last thing. I feel like we see some growth from Scott, but for all we are told how much Griff has changed, I didn’t really see enough of it. To be clear, Griff was in prison for murder. He was drunk and high and got into a bar fight and killed a man. So we aren’t talking like “oh, I was defending a little old lady and accidentally killed the bad guy” scenario. This is straight up murder with no redeeming or extenuating circumstances. Then, within days of getting out of prison, while being all stalkery and following Scott around, Griff pulls a knife on Scott’s date when he is being pushy and inappropriate. He is just carrying around this giant knife while on parole and threatens this guy who doesn’t appear to be putting Scott in any actual danger. Griff also gets blackout drunk again twice within a short period, to the point where he has no memory of where he is or what happened the night before (a repeat of the bar fight situation). He continues to have a temper (though never directed at Scott or Jay) and threatens violence when angry. So this didn’t scream to me a guy who has changed and I needed to see more from Griff to really buy the idea that he is a new man.
So I know that is a lot here, but this one just didn’t click for me. I have enjoyed other work by this author under the Gianni Holmes pen name, so this may just be the case of a bad match for me. I think folks who are less bothered by Scott and Griff’s behavior may find this works better for them, as the writing is fine overall. But this one just didn’t stick for me unfortunately.