Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Thom Baron has been struggling with social anxiety his entire life. He’s taken the medications, gone to the therapists, followed the programs, and concluded his best life is a solitary one. When he comes across a dog in obvious need at his local market, it rekindles the desire to have some company around. It may come with a dishevelled coat, a notched ear, and a refusal to respond to anything but its given name “Ugly,” but it could still be a friend.
However, Thom’s new fur buddy has no such need to keep to itself and immediately befriends the man Thom has secretly coveted since he moved in — Justin, Thom’s gorgeous, bright-eyed neighbour. No matter how Thom tries to evade the man, the dog keeps drawing them back into each other’s lives, and it doesn’t take Thom long to recognize it’s simply pursuing the demands of Thom’s own heart. With the dog giving him the courage to try, Thom reaches out to return the love being offered.
Until a stranger shows up insisting the dog is his and demanding its immediate return … a loss Thom knows will take all of his efforts and newfound confidence with it.
Thom has serious social anxiety. The man is incapable of even answering a question. “Poorly developed social skills” was common. “An Inability to interact” and “anxious” were high on the list. “Arrogant” had been the one that bothered him the most and “socially disturbed” he considered one of the cleverest.” He gets heart palpitations, hyperventilates, thinks of ways of being maimed or killed to avoid a situation, the works. He has certain times he can go places, such as the Market,
It is here at the Market, in a search for strawberries, that he finds the dog named Ugly, smelly, dirty and locked in a cage under a table. He can’t resist a kindred spirit and so ends up buying the dog. “The dog looked at Thom with the sad disinterest of something that knew it had absolutely no value and deserved no pity.” He can’t bear to call it Ugly so calls it, Dog. This leads to him meeting up with his new neighbor, Justin. I admit, I couldn’t figure out Justin’s patience with Thom. Thom is rude to him, runs away, hides and avoids. “That had gone absolutely horrible, not that he had ever expected the first forced conversation to go any other way.” The anxiety is just crippling.
But Justin is patient and persistent. “You don’t really like me too much.” He says that to Thom and I felt badly for him. Justin is aided by Dog, who often brings Thom into contact with Justin. Thom gives a lot of credit to Dog for helping with the anxiety. He can’t stay and hide, Dog needs food. Dog needs the vet. Dog needs to go out.
Thom has had one relationship in his life and he hurt the person badly by being unable to be a good partner, unable to care enough. So that has colored his actions and he can’t be with Justin or be close to Justin because it will end badly and Justin will be hurt. “He was a vergin in almost every aspect of the word that one could imagine.” He wants and he longs but he can’t do anything about it.
I will admit there was a point when I was SO disappointed with Justin. I was rather like Thom at that moment. “Don’t. I can’t believe you pretend like you understand, yet you stand her and talk like this.” It wasn’t so much what Justin did but what he was saying. Justin’s “Then you’d keep going on and getting better without him, Thom” actually made me cringe because it showed Justin didn’t realize Thom had spent years hiding away, suffering and struggling with anxiety so strong it often left him physically ill. “You’re supposed to be on my side, but no, you have to be Mister Nice Guy.” Like Thom, I had to think about it and realize there really was no option. But in the moment, I was so ticked at him.
There isn’t a lot of angst here and I did have the fleeting thought that Thom’s anxiety was a little too easily resolved but I definitely saw the benefits Dog had made for Thom. I liked this cute story and I hope things continue to just get better and better for Thom and Justin.
Cover art, showing Thom and Justin holding hands with Dog front and center, was perfect for the story.
book, 126 pages
Published 2019 by JMS Books
Edition Language English