Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This is the fourth book in the Hearts and Health series, and as far as I’m concerned, is far and away the best so far. Like the others in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone, and once again several other characters from the previous books make cameo appearances. Ashe is, after all, a small community!
The characters in this book are much younger than the others in the series: Beau is an 18 year old high school senior, and Wade is a 19 year old who is redoing some of his senior classes because he failed the first time around. They are unofficial cousins, with families who have been tied together by marriage and circumstance. Wade’s story is really kind of tragic – he came out to his father, a successful surgeon, when he was 15, and though he was expecting full acceptance, what he got was a kind of half-hearted “maybe you’re just not sure yet” warning. And the next day, with no explanation, his father killed himself.
So I guess I should stop here and explain why this book means so much to me. I am also in the medical field, and the rate of suicide amongst physicians is higher than in the general populace. It’s a very high stress career, and some specialties, like surgery, are worse than others. Unfortunately, it is also more difficult for many physicians to seek help, because of censure by state medical boards, licensing committees, and so forth. It’s a catch-22: you’re more likely to be suicidal, and less likely to seek help. I am also a survivor of suicide in my own family, and I appreciated all the misplaced guilt that Wade experienced. Most suicides don’t leave notes, and that means those left behind must try to come up with their own reasons as to why it happened, and in a situation so fraught with guilt, those reasons don’t have to make sense. From my own unfortunate experience, I have to say the author got it all right, and it was heartbreaking, but also skillfully and compassionately done.
After his father’s death, Wade (of course) changed, going from a happy teenager with good grades, to a withdrawn, moody young man who didn’t seem to care about anything at all. He had supportive family, but because he felt his confession caused or contributed to his father’s suicide, he was unable to believe he had worth, and just didn’t care about his future. He was finally realizing that he had to turn his life around when he was repeating his senior year, and that is when circumstances threw him in with Beau again. Beau had always crushed on Wade, and Wade knew that, but he was trying to completely suppress any gay feeling or attraction, and in the past that meant ignoring Beau, even when their families got together. Beau is a good kid, a “real goody two-shoes”, who gets good grades and volunteers at the hospital, and he hasn’t given up on Wade even when it seems that everyone else has.
The narrative of the two of them coming together, gradually opening up, learning more about themselves and each other and falling in love because of it, was heartwarming and at the same time very real. The part that I think I most appreciated is that this was not a case of true love curing mental illness that I’ve seen done in less educated books. Wade was already at a point of self-realization before he got involved with Beau, and when he considered coming out – as much to himself as others – he needed professional support to do so. While Beau may have been a bit of a catalyst, he was not the reason for Wade’s recovery.
I truly enjoyed reading this book – despite the painful reminders of events in my own life – and I highly recommend it. I’m not only looking forward to the next in the series, I think I’m going to go back and reread the others!
Cover art by Lucas Soltow is nice, matches with the other covers in the series.
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