Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Jacob Carlson is a medical transcriptionist who works at home, pretty much hiding out from the world except for his best friend, Chris, and his cat, Sebastian. An accident in his senior year caused a fire to burn the right side of his face and body. The reactions he got from his friends and still gets from uncaring people have turned his view of himself monstrous. His one link to the outside world is Chris, an amazing and loyal friend from before the accident who works to make sure Jacob is not alone. It is through Chris that he has a meeting with someone (Tristan) who makes him long. “It’s just…he sometimes wonders what it would be like to have someone – other than a doctor or nurse – actually touch him. Because they want to. Because they like him. Because they want to make him feel good.” This boy, he grabbed my heart. He gives people the cold shoulder so they don’t have to deal with his face. Sigh.
Tristan is on the Council for the Arts and a knows Chris. It is at a party that Jacob reluctantly attends with Chris that Tristan shows he’s a good person. He talks to Jacob even when Jacob is being pretty cold. When Jacob shows the scar, “…his ace in the hole”, Tristan just keeps talking about Jacob’s job and math and finally, art. That’s where Jacob finally joins the conversation and the two of them begin on a journey of getting to know you and maybe getting to like you.
Let’s put it right out there: Jacob has scars from a fire. He is not monstrous. He is lonely and lovely. The way the accident happened, the timing of it, just made my heart ache for him. He’s spent ten years hiding himself and it’s very difficult to change that, particularly when rude people react badly. He’s now not sure how to act when someone might be interested. “The scarring from the accident makes him a freak and it’s ten times easier not to have to explain or deal with the pitying looks he gets.” Notice, he says “makes him a freak”, not “makes him look like a freak.” He’s so self-loathing.
When he and Tristan begin to be friends, Jacob opens up a little. Sharing the how of the fire doesn’t make Tristan eye him with pity, just sympathy. Their first kiss was perfect. Tristan’s way of making Jacob feel important and his attitude that only Jacob’s opinion matters about Jacob was so vital to making Jacob feel better. Not to say Tristan is always serious. As they begin the “Tristan and Jacob Text Discussions of 2017 ™”, Jacob gets “Horseradish is a very underrated condiment or For some reason I have always like the smell of gasoline.”
I’m sure somewhere Tristan has some flaws but I didn’t seem them. Or maybe I did and didn’t care because I liked them both so much. He sings Afternoon Delight (yes!) and is patient with people and kind. He is kind when Jacob is so very brave and for the first time, takes his shirt off in front of another man, a man he cares about. “You humble me every time we’re together. Your strength is so incredible.” These two, they work.
I knew something was going to happen to mar Jacob’s happiness but when it happened it came from an area I wasn’t expecting and I was pretty pissed about it all. People can suck. Despite that, this is very low angst story. I thoroughly appreciated that the characters, including Chris, were good people and I was pulling for them. As a former medical transcriptionist, I could empathize with the unintelligible doctor voices too! I would recommend this book without reservation.
The cover art, by Winterheart Designs, didn’t work wonders for me. The model wasn’t Jacob, because there is no scar, yet I couldn’t see it being Tristan either. The model is very brooding, while Tristan is known for “…the smile – wide and open and happy..” The background is arty and perfect but then the title is difficult to read. All in all, not really a fan of the cover.
Published March 22nd 2018 by MLR Press