Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Trigger warnings: Suicide attempt, self-harm.
I have to start out by saying I’m probably in the minority about my rating on this one but I will explain why. Lincoln and Jace have been friends since they were kids, spending summers together at their family’s cabins by the lake. They were best friends who, at age 15, realized they could be something more. And so they were best friends and boyfriends, eagerly awaiting the time they could be together all the time and not just in the summer. As they approached time to go to college, they made promises to each other and planned their future. The problem is, Lincoln didn’t keep those promises, instead ghosting Jace after a night spent together and never contacting him again. No note, no communication until Lincoln’s band makes it big with a song, Cherry Hill, written by Lincoln about his love affair with Jace, putting it out for the world. Brutal.
Ten years have passed and Lincoln and his band, Downward Spiral, are immensely successful and popular. They are also falling apart, at each other’s throats and Lincoln especially is doing just that – downward spiraling. Lincoln doesn’t care about anything, struggling to get through the day. He’s had a suicide attempt fairly recently and when the band manager finds him passed out on the balcony in freezing weather, it’s time to do something. The band takes a hiatus and Lincoln goes to the only place he’s felt really happy, that cabin by the lake. “What was I thinking, coming here to torture myself with memories of the love I threw away?”
Providentially, Jace, an epidemiologist, has also decided to spend some vacation time at his parents’ cabin by the lake. The two run into each other at the grocery story for the first time in ten painful years and it made sense to me that Jace was angry. Ten years you’ve suffered because the love of your life just disappeared, never to contact you again, making money off the song of your pain, until an accidental meeting. The blurb talks about Jace hating him but I just felt like Jace gave into Linc a little too easily. He had the advice from his awesome brother, Joel, and his best friend, Wyatt, to use this time to get closure on Linc but he almost immediately starts hanging out with Linc and then sleeping with him. He doesn’t give his trust easily but them even hanging out and sleeping together just seemed too quick for someone who’s life was nearly destroyed by the pain of his love leaving.
The story is told in alternating first person point of view, so we get the insights of both Lincoln and Jace. This was so helpful in really connecting with the characters and as a reader I appreciated getting the thought processes they had going on. This is an emotional story with some heavy baggage on Lincoln’s side particularly and some incredibly difficult feelings for them to work through. When they play video games, loser has to tell a truth, it was the start, really.
“I wrote more songs about you, but I never showed them to a label because I didn’t want to share them with the world.”
“You didn’t have a problem with that first one. I mean, Jesus, Linc, you talk about the first time we…” Jace shakes his head and clenches his jaw.
“I know, and I wished I hadn’t as soon as we started recording. But they wouldn’t let me back out. I felt like I gave away a piece of us when I let the world have that song, and that’s one of my biggest regrets.”
Definitely, since not only did Linc ghost Jace but had to hear one of the most popular songs of the time (and one that is still played). Linc is very apologetic throughout, waiting for Jace to be ready to listen to him explain and mean the apology. To show that a second chance will bring a much different result. I did hate that through it Jace kept feeling bad. As he said, “I didn’t break this, you don’t. You don’t get to make me feel bad about not wanting to pick up where we left off.” But still, he kept feeling bad.
They do fall into bed together, “…a little fun… for old time’s sake”and Linc has such happy memories of their times at the cabin. Jace, however, “Funny, I can only remember the morning I woke up all alone in that bed, all of your things packed and gone. You didn’t even have the courtesy to leave me a note.” Linc acts surprised, or maybe hurt that’s what Jace remembers. I wanted to shake him and say, what did you think! “The sad thing is those are all my happy memories, too. But you ruined it, Linc. You took every good thing inside me, and you stomped all over it, then tossed it away like it never meant anything to you.” I can’t even imagine the depth of pain he has been feeling for ten years. Linc has felt it as well, but at least he knows the reason.
The thing that was done extraordinarily well here was Linc’s depression. The darkness that encompasses him was real and his reactions were also real. His way of coping with the pain of his life and the darkness is to self harm, a mechanism he’s been using since his teen years. His father was a verbally abusive nightmare and cutting was a way for Linc to control that pain. “Do you have any idea how happy I was to have a son when you were born? And then you turned out to be the world’s biggest disappointment. You’re weak. Boys don’t cry, you f**king queer” is just the tip of the iceberg. The cutting scenes are realistic and we get Lincoln’s feelings, or maybe lack of feeling is the better way to put it, during those times. I especially appreciated that there was no magic cure here. Having Jace by him made Linc happy and hopeful but when the depression set in, it still set in. Because serious depression isn’t that simple and this was so realistic. I couldn’t help worry for Jace as Lincoln deals with what he thinks is rejection by cutting more. That’s a lot to put on someone. I was glad when Jace declared his deal-breaker.
The whole thing is a second chance work in progress and it is not an easy one. There are Side B chapters (flashbacks to when they were teenagers) to give some background of the intensity of their relationship and while I am not usually a fan of flashbacks, they definitely worked here. They were so cute and so sweet as teens, it just made the whole separation more painful. When Linc remembers things he planned and promised at that time, as the perfect Christmas that never happened, I kept thinking, please let the reason for leaving be a good one, something we can forgive him for. For me, the reason didn’t work and that kept this from being five stars. I dislike that kind of thing and Jace deserved at least a conversation. But it wasn’t annoying enough to take away from the powerful aspect of this book.
The author has set up the next books in the series with the other band members, Benji, Lando and Jude, in a way that wasn’t clunky or obvious, just a really nice teaser as to things coming next. Even Linc doesn’t know what has happened yet! This vacation was good for everyone, it seems. This is a great start to a new series. Not light and fluffy (although I am hoping at least one of their stories will be) but definitely worth the read.
Cover art by Inked Design fit the feel of the book. The cover boy is a decent representation of Lincoln, tattooed and a little brooding, with the city and the lake as a backdrop.
Sales Links: Amazon
Kindle Edition, 294 pages
Published May 20th 2018