Rating: 5 stars out of 5
How do I put what this book meant to me into words? I can’t find terms to describe this outstanding work. Phenomenal, Heartbreaking, Touching, Realistic, Emotional, Hopeful? All of these, yet none can do the job on its own.
The book is in two segments: before and after. Before Trevor’s son, Riley, is killed in action in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and After as Trevor starts the painful process of trying to survive without his reason to live. I’m still reeling as I write this. That section was so emotional for me that tears are still leaking, and those who know me know that I don’t let those suckers loose easily.
My son was in a similar situation, IRL, the year before Riley shipped out. My parent trigger was pulled over and over again throughout this realistically told story. The rare calls that only came during the night, which was their daytime. Going off grid on patrol somewhere top secret. The IEDs and constant danger from snipers and suicide bombers. All that and more. It was a very painfully emotional year for me and as I read Riley’s story and Trevor’s reactions, I was right there with them as my heart beat too fast, or I felt lightheaded, frightened, and finally, sobbing. Honestly, I don’t know how a parent can survive the loss of a child, but if there are words to describe the hell that is having your child in a situation like Riley was in, Ms. Hansen surely found them. Kudos for such an outstanding and sensitive portrayal of that time period.
And the after? Trevor was so broken it didn’t seem likely he could put one foot in front of the other. The stages of grief are clearly portrayed. The breakup with Carl, the slowly developing friendship with Jesse, Riley’s BFF and battle buddy, and their long and very slow burn that develops into so much more—all inevitable as readers could tell by the time it happened. The beauty is in the journey we take with Trevor and Jesse along the way as they revisit their memories of Riley: the child, the friend, the soldier. And, as with the main characters, the secondary characters are well-developed and have their own issues and impact from their time in Afghanistan, most notably PTSD. The author doesn’t gloss over any of it. Each issue is addressed, some more in-depth than others, all of it making for an emotional read.
Riley isn’t a fleeting character either. Though he dies in this story, his memory is kept alive throughout the book, in part during Trevor’s stages of grief, but in part through his annual visits to Arlington National Cemetery, where Riley is buried alongside other soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is a romance in here. Honest there is, but the couple’s story is wrapped up in so much other emotion that needs to be addressed, the romance is almost secondary. Jesse and Trevor together were beautiful, though they didn’t come together as a couple until the latter part of the book. And when they did, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. There is so much emotional depth to this story that I’m back to saying what I did at the beginning of this review: there are no words that can do it justice.
Topping my Best of 2018 list, this book deserves to be read. Grab the tissue box, find a quiet place where your sobbing will not bother others, and just read. Read until your heart breaks and heals itself, because it will heal, and by the end of the story, joy is in store for all those who finish. Joy and a sense of peace and accomplishment and the knowledge that you’ve just read something very special. Needless to say, I very highly recommend this story to all lovers of MM romance, angst, age gap, hurt-comfort, and deep feels on all stages of life’s spectrum.
The somewhat bland-colored cover features a rear view of two men gazing into one another’s eyes. Neither appears to be younger than the other so it doesn’t quite represent the characters and isn’t appealing.
ebook, 451 pages
Expected publication: March 26th 2018 by Carina Press