Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5
“Seven out of 10 Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.” – Pras Michel
When Judah Jackson is released from prison he has exactly a bag containing two pairs of pants, a shirt, some underwear, socks and $300 in cash, a far cry from the wealthy man who entered prison convicted of insider trading. At first, Judah thinks it will only be a matter of time before he is working and getting his business back together. But soon the reality of his situation and new life as a ex con sets in. No one will hire him and without an income he loses his apartment and ends out on the streets, vulnerable, angry, and alone.
Tobias Simonsen has been homeless for over a year and finds that he has almost adjusted to his status as a man without a job or place to call his own. Not even his degrees and experience in the restaurant business have been enough to save him from his current life and he is now beyond despair that it will change. Then he saves a man being beaten in an alley, a man once wealthy and now painfully unable to fend for himself on the streets of Ashville.
Together Judah and Toby find a connection that begins to lift them up into friendship and then something more. When their relationship starts to heal the wounds for both men, they start to hope for a future together. Then a change in one man’s situation starts a chain reaction of emotions and events that could shatter their bond forever. Will their faith in each other and their love keep them together even when reason tells them they will part?
What a moving and timely story from Ally Blue! Long the Mile focuses on the plight of homeless, a heartbreaking statistic that is rising throughout the nation, especially in these economic times. Instead of faceless numbers Ally Blue takes this tragic reality for so many and brings it down to an intimate and relatable level with the characters of Judah and Toby, two men of different backgrounds and education who end up in the same landscape of homelessness and despair.
This is a tough topic to use as a center for a romance, especially if one of the men is also someone whose criminal conduct and arrogance got him convicted of a felony and sent to prison. Our first introduction to Judah Jackson is a risky one on the part of the author. Judah is angry, still arrogant, and not especially sorry that he committed a crime, only that he got caught. Think of the white collar criminals such as Kenneth Lay of Enron and you can see how such a character might invite scorn instead of sympathy. But that sneering man we meet as he is leaving prison is soon to get a shocking comeuppance as Judah tries to find a job while his small pocket of funds dwindles. Ally Blue takes us into his mindset as Judah unravels emotionally and physically until he finally runs out of options and ends up on the streets of Asheville. It is a scary picture, made all the more real by the author’s authentic descriptions and her clear understanding of the humiliation, despair and fear that is the constant state of those who are homeless.
To balance out the picture she is creating, Blue then gives us Toby Simonsen, an educated young man who was working on his career, with a bright future ahead of him until the economy crashed along with his job. With all hotels and service establishments in trouble, the jobs vanished and so did the hopes of thousands of people along with them. I loved Toby and my heart broke for him because we understand that Toby has given up after a year on the streets. The constant search for work as well as the constant rejection wears upon the soul and only the goodness and understanding of Father Bill and the shelter at Holy Innocents has helped to save him. Ally Blue has endowed Toby with an inner strength that feels real, born out of need and Toby’s innate goodness. Toby is definitely the easier of the two men to connect with.
Slowly over the course of Long The Mile, the real inner Judah starts to appear along with his history that makes the man he became at least understandable if not always likable. And the reader needs that in order to accept Toby’s attraction and eventual love for Judah. If this story has an identifiable weakness, it arrives in the latter part of the book when a event arrives that threatens to tear the men apart. I think the situation that signals a change in their lives is a perfectly realistic one as is its separate effect on each of them. My only quibble is that Toby seems a little oblivious to what a change in the dynamics would have on Judah with his background. I kept thinking that perhaps a little more exposition and length would have helped alleviate what felt like a rushed resolution to a terrific story.
But that quibble aside, Long the Mile is a timely tale no matter what time of year it is. With its focus on a homeless population that is ever present, Ally Blue has brought this tragedy home and given it two faces we can identify and sympathize with. When you add the fact that young LGBT youth are a large part of that statistic through no fault of their own other than being gay and the shame and horror deepens.
I highly recommend this book to all based on its own merit as a heartwarming romance. But Ally Blue and the publisher just made it easier by donating 20 percent of all proceeds to the Ali Forney Center. So run, don’t walk and grab it right up. You will be getting a wonderful story and helping LBGTQ youth as well.
20% of all proceeds from this title are donated to the Ali Forney Center in New York, whose mission “is to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and to support them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood.” To learn more about this charity or to donate directly, please visit http://www.aliforneycenter.org/.