Rating: 5 stars out of 5 ★★★★★
This was a sweet, nostalgic walk down memory lane as Caleb Hudson and Hal Zimmer recall the first day they met sixty years before, and with the urging of their children and grandchildren, relate the long, sometimes painful road they traveled to find the balance necessary to merge that friendship with love and long-term commitment.
In 2023, at a family reunion held in honor of Caleb and Hal, who are now husbands, their children and grandchildren presented them with a memory book filled with photos, letters, and other memorabilia that symbolized the time they spent together and apart in their early years. Prompted to tell tales of what happened at various points of their lives, readers are treated to what is surely one of the best stories this reviewer has read all year. I must admit, though, it may be partially because the story encompasses my own history, taking place over the course of time in which I grew up and grew old. But from that perspective, I can also guarantee the authenticity of the flavor of the times.
In 1963, when Caleb Hudson first attended what used to be an all-white elementary school in Charleston, South Carolina, his early days were fraught with negativity and racial prejudice—from both the students and the teachers. Though he dreaded going to school each day, he knew that he and others like him had to step up to the task so segregation would be something others would read about in history books and not experience in real life. Fortunately, a new kid—a Northerner—joined his class, and some of the attention was diverted from him onto this new kid. Hal Zimmer, an adorable, friendly redhead, couldn’t understand why his parents moved from New York to a place where he was not only an outsider, but was shunned for not being a native. When the bullies cornered him after school, he thought he was a goner until another kid showed up to help him and scared the bullies away. Caleb was that other kid and from that moment on, they became best friends for life, and neither of them ever dreaded going to school again.
As the boys mature, Hal comes to realize that he is gay, and shunned by his father for his “sissy ways,” he acts out by joining the antiwar movement, hanging out with hippies and others in the Village once he gets to college in New York. In the meantime, Caleb is becoming aware that he has feelings for Hal that are more than brotherly, but rather than embrace those feelings, he denies them. But when he’s drafted and sent to Viet Nam, he extracts a promise from Hal that Hal won’t protest against the soldiers returning home. If he must protest the government, that’s fine, but not the men who have no choice but to go to serve their country.
Once Caleb is back and the two are reunited, sparks fly between them, Caleb confesses his attraction to Hal, and they have their first look at how hot they can be together. But it doesn’t last, and circumstances separate them yet again as Hal decides to join the Peace Corps and serve two years in Ghana. It’s not until he returns from there that the two men finally face their demons, but they have to fight against outside forces, former lovers, family, and friends to be able to forge their way to what they really want and need.
Thank you, Ms. Labbe, for ending this story, not with a tragedy, but with hope for a long future together as the men look forward to making good use of their time in retirement. There are few stories in which the MCs grow old together, and even fewer in which the seniors look forward to a happy future. Twenty-four hours after completion, my emotions are finally settling into a warm and fuzzy ball in my tummy after having been on a rollercoaster throughout the book. There are heartbreakingly poignant moments in this story, periods of worry and concern, and times of angst-filled distress, yet there are times of joy and happiness as well, and I’m left with a feeling of awe from having just read a book that will live in my memory for a long time to come.
I highly recommend this story to all lovers of M/M romance. If you love a good tale, or a story of an interracial couple, or if you simply enjoy a walk back through history, please don’t’ miss your chance to read this story.
Cover Art by Catt Ford depicts an interracial photo of two young boys, one with his arm around the other, another photo of two hands being held—the same young boys—books, and various memorabilia collected throughout their lives. The cover is perfect for the content of this story which spans this couple’s love and friendship over the past sixty years.