Wow. This book was phenomenal. it completely lived up to the hype.
I have a lot of thoughts on this so here they are (keep in mind this is coming from an Asian American from the Bay Area):
I loved how educational it was. It really made you understand the Black Lives Matter movement and the reality of it. It hit every single point and put you right in the middle of it.
I also liked how Angie Thomas made brought up big points in really subtle ways. For example, “Funny how it works with white kids though. It’s dope to be black until it’s hard to be black” (11). That is so true. People only like black culture when it’s cool , but the minute something bad happens to the black community, they distance themselves from it. But the quote that really hit hard was, “Funny. Slave masters thought they were making a difference in black people’s lives too. Saving them from their ‘wild African ways.’ Same Shit, different century. I wish people them would stop thinking that people like me need saving” (246). I read that quote and was like, damn, preach it girl!
The minority alliance between Starr and Maya made me so happy. It was so good to see a black girl and her Asian best friend team up. Angie Thomas could have done a bit more with it, but it was still nice to see it included. Personally, I think we need more minority alliances because there is more that unites us than divides us and together we can make a big impact. #Asians4BlackLives
I also liked that this tackled interracial dating. It added an extra layer to the complexity of this novel.
The pop culture references were a really nice and unexpected touch. I was definitely not expecting High School Musical and the Jonas Brothers to be mentioned in this book.
Overall, this book was everything. It should be taught in schools because despite being fiction, it was so informative, thought provoking, and leaves the door open for a lot of discussion.
First off, trigger warning - there is a detailed flashback to sexual assault in this book that happened when Kelly was a teenager. Proceed accordingly if this might be a trigger for you.
I'm of two minds about this novel. On one hand, I liked the characters and most of the plot, and the romance between the two men progressed at a reasonable pace, once Drew pulled his head out of his ass. There was good, believable chemistry between them, and the relationship had little angst - other than Kelly's traumatic experience, which he still grapples with, and Drew keeping a secret he shouldn't have. On the other hand, some of the plot felt a little OTT - there was a homophobic father and blackmail and attempted coercion and a marriage pact that all seemed a bit too much for my taste. In addition, during the first 15% or so, I felt that a lot of the writing was info dump and superfluous. For example, I didn't need to be told multiple times that Kelly's little brother Jaylen has asthma and required breathing treatments, which are expensive. I didn't need to be told multiple times that Kelly has chosen to be an admin assistant at this company because it comes with medical benefits for his brother. Most readers, including myself, will remember if being told information once. Twice is okay. More than that, I get irritated.
Drew is Kelly's boss, and because Drew has a crush on the younger man, he's been treating him coldly and rudely, which - what? Considering that Drew is supposedly in his 30s, I would assume that someone of his age had a better grip on his emotions than that, and could act in a professional manner - which he didn't. Kelly doesn't understand why his boss is nice to everyone else, but cold with him, especially since Kelly has a bit of a crush on the older man too. I wouldn't have understood either, and Drew's behavior pissed me off.
After Kelly's office birthday celebration, Drew's tenuous hold on his self-control snaps, and the two men share a hot and heavy kiss in his office. Something triggers Kelly, and he freaks out and runs. Confused and worried, Drew attempts to find out what happened. He comes on super strong at first, but when Kelly has a another freak-out due to his trauma, Drew reins it in, thankfully so. He was actually a very caring guy, and I appreciated that.
I did have some concerns about the realism of their office demeanor - nobody seems to have questioned their changed behavior, really, and nobody seems to have any suspicions. Additionally, there were some occasions early on where Drew is a complete ass in making himself sound as if Kelly's job may be on the line if he doesn't comply - which, hello, harassment.
Kelly has a great support system in his friends, and dances at a gay bar on weekends. He also has custody of his much younger brother after his mother and step-father died when Kelly was but 19. Having put himself through college and looking after his baby brother is quite a feat. He had a lot of backbone, which I appreciated, and he didn't let Drew push him around. Much.
Once Drew finds out more about Kelly's background and really takes the time to get to know the other man, lending support when the little brother ends up in the hospital with asthma attacks, and generally being there for Kelly, their romance truly started to flourish, and I could see that Kelly started to trust Drew.
There were many emotional scenes that were either heart-breaking or heart-warming, and plenty of sexy times that thankfully didn't feel gratuitous, and I enjoyed reading this story for the most part. I could have done without the explicit flashback - I didn't feel that was necessary to bring Kelly's trauma across, and it felt somewhat exploitative. Again, heed the trigger warning.
Overall, for a debut novel, this was a good read, and I would be inclined to read more of this author's books as they are published.
** I received a free copy of this book from Gay Book Promotions as part of a review tour in exchange for an honest review. **