So. This story made me very, VERY uncomfortable, but problably not for the reasons you think.
Let me point out at first that I was looking forward to this book very much. A farmer living in a commune and an environmental engineering student with some sexual hang-ups crushing on each other, finally taking a leap? Yes, please! I loved the unique premises of this story, I loved the beginning. Painfully shy Jude struggling with his past, his body, his sexuality and desires. I liked Hudson too, so protective of his commune, an organic farmer to boot, with a big heart and all his insecurities as results of past relationships. I also loved the idea of an LGBTQ commune where everyone lives and loves freely and openly. So I pretty much enjoyed the story until Jude took his first steps on commune ground. It was only then that I had issues, and I had a lot of them. I guess part of them were my own fault, because if I'd paid attention to the blurb, I might have caught on before getting in too deep.
Jude moves to Kaleidoscope Gardens, however his sexual hang-ups make it hard to adjust. He’s an uptight virgin living among people who have sex freely and with multiple partners. When Jude finally loosens up, Hudson is flooded with emotions.
In hindsight, I already felt uncomfortable reading this part of the blurb, just chose to ignore it. Don't ask me why. As it stands, I'm not at all happy with the "uptight virgin" part, because it has a certain ring to it I don't much appreciate. It got worse when I actually learned what Jude's "loosening up" entailed.
Let me be clear: I am not opposed to polyamorous or open relationships. I had one, I enjoyed it, I was freaking happy, I would do it again with the right people at the right time. My first issue was that basically everyone living in an open/poly relationship in this commune had Problems with a capital P, mostly to do with trauma. Which was a little disappointing in the way that not everyone living in "alternative" realtionships does so because they can't have a "normal" (monogamous) relationship, or because they are dealing with (sexual or other) trauma and this is their way of coping. It felt a little too clichéd for my taste, and I'm concerned that parts of this book might manifest certain prejudices people have regarding open and poly relationships instead of resolving them. A lot of potential wasted, IMHO.
What really got me going though, were the rules the members of the commune had to follow.
If I wanted to get technical or really bitchy, I'd point out that asexual people are part of the 'queer' (the Q in LGBTQ, you know?) community, too. In this book however, there would not have been a place at the table for them. Not cool. Which brings me to the big fucking thing that made me uncomfortable and rage-y as hell. In order to be allowed to stay and live with the commune, Jude had to participate in a sexual act in front of the other members in some kind of ritual.
Pause to let that sink in.
I'm sure you can see and interpret that as a positive, life-infirming way of introducing Jude to the commune, and make him feel welcome.
I felt no such thing.
For me the statement "Fuck with us or you can't stay with us - no matter how much you help our farm or love some of our members." is NOT okay. In fact, I'd go as far as saying: This is COERCION, pure and simple. When you blackmail someone into "willingly" participating in a sexual group act? That's not including, welcoming or ROMANTIC. It is wrong. No matter the context or intention. So, so wrong. And if you want to intercept here to tell me that Jude really wanted it in the end, that it was liberating for him and helped him to grow? That he just needed a little push in the right direction, because he didn't know what he really needed? I'd say that maybe, just maybe, you think about the implications of these statements.
"He/She actually really wanted it, they just didn't know it."
"You didn't mean it when you said 'no'. Your eyes and body said 'yes'."
"I know you think you don't want to, I know you might not be ready, but if you don't do it now, you have to leave."
Still see no problem? Because holy crap, I do! I could list my issues alphabetically or according to time of occurence, there are so many of them! So, yeah. I hated that part of the book. I hated it with a vengeance. It made me spit fire and venom all over the place, because NOOOOOO. I do not have enough words to express how bad this was for me.
I did try to move on. Mostly because I liked Jude as a character and wanted to see where his story would go. Unfortunately, things didn't get better. After opening up - the marvellous justification for pushing him way beyond his limits - he would have need an even more nurturing, supportive environment, in addition to some very special attention and care from the one he started to fall for. What did he get instead? An abrasive dickhead of a self-centered jerk who treated him like shit. I know Hudson had his own issues. Some of his thoughts made sense to me, I'll give him that. I even understood parts of him, because I didn't hate him as much as I could have. But the things he did and said pissed me of. Some of them were just unforgiveable and I was pretty much done with him after that. I was also done with the book.
Even though I finished it, I didn't really care anymore. Things got ugly, things got tense, things got emotional, but I remained fairly entouched throughout it all. Maybe a blib here or there for Jude and his brother, nothing more though.
All in all, I was not happy with this book. I had high expectations and even bigger hopes for it, but I was bitterly doisappointed with the execution of the whole thing. The notion that coercion is romantic in any form or fashion will never fly with me, so these scenes combined with Hudson's appalling behaviour at times ruined the book for me. 2 stars, one of them is solely and exclusively for Jude, because I really liked him and felt for him as a character.