Wednesday, October 9, 2013

ARC Review: Northern Star by Ethan Day

Northern Star
From the blurb:

Deacon Miller never had it all—he never really believed he could. Growing up in a broken home with an alcoholic mother and a revolving door of truly pathetic father figures taught him to keep his expectations low. Now at twenty-seven, on the night before Christmas Eve, his life is turned upside down yet again; his boyfriend has dumped him, he just fled the holiday family reunion from hell, and now to top it all off, a blizzard has left him stranded in an airport hotel.

Steve Steele has spent the better part of his forty-four years living a lie, ignoring his attraction to other men in an attempt to fit into the mold of the man he thought he should be, instead of living life as the man he knew himself to be. Recently divorced after coming home from work one day and coming out to his wife, Steve has floundered over the past year, desperately attempting to wade through the guilt and find the courage to start again.

That’s when a chance meeting in a hotel bar brings two lonely men together… and what should’ve been a one night stand turns into something much more than either one ever expected.

Sandra's rating:

There are apparently two types of Ethan Day books, one the funny, fluffy kind that is an easy read for a summer afternoon, the other a quiet, reflective book that explores human relationships and emotions on a much deeper level.

Northern Star is one of the latter. No worries, friends, it still is infused with much of Ethan Day's special brand of humorous banter, but it takes the reader deeply into the mindset of a young man in his later twenties who's suffered abuse and neglect for most of his life.

The book starts off with Deacon sitting in a hotel bar at the Detroit airport right before Christmas, after having fled his mother's house when the verbal abuse had reached his limit. Feeling already guilty for leaving his sister Ashley to celebrate Christmas without him, he's further pulled into the black depths of his personal hell. You see, he's just received a "Dear John" email from his long-time boyfriend Seth with whom he lives in Chicago, in which Seth basically tells him to shove it, in words that had me cringing simply by reading them. What an ass.

So Deacon is drowning his sorrows when Steve, seventeen years his senior, a local car dealership owner and divorced man, walks into the bar and sits down next to him. A bit of banter, that had me lawling out loud a few times in as many minutes, much to the disbelief/amusement of the girl cutting my hair at the time, and a confession from Deacon about the email, brings the two men to Deacon's hotel room for a night of holy hot boysecks, Batman.

What would perhaps have been a one-night stand turns into a bit more when Deacon gets a phone call from his sister about their mother having been in an accident. Steve drives Deacon to the hospital and leaves his business card with instructions for Deacon to call him.

From there, the story unfolds as Deacon packs up his stuff in Chicago and returns to Detroit immediately, taking a job at a local grocery store, to take care of his sister, who's still a minor. Having fought for and received temporary guardianship, Deacon is forced to move into their mother's house - a house that he fled to escape her derision and abuse.

The author deeply explores the mindset of a very damaged individual who doesn't believe he deserves to be loved, who doesn't even know what love looks like. When Deacon is reunited with Steve, the two embark on a relationship.

Steve himself has demons of his own, having recently divorced his wife after coming out to her. He feels guilty for having deceived her, unwilling and afraid to come out of the closet for so long, and he feels guilty for having had to more or less abandon his ex-wife's daughter, afraid to ask to see her because of the deception. He doesn't think he deserves to be in her life.

I was immensely impressed with the author's handling of the issues presented in this book. At one point, I had to stop reading because I couldn't see the words through the tears flowing from my eyes.

Too many things about Deacon reminded me of a very dear friend of mine, when Deacon doesn't believe he deserves good things, when his expectations for other people are lower than low, and who struggles to ask for anything simply because he thinks he's undeserving. My heart bled for this young man, who's seen so much adversity in his 27 years, and yet managed to retain his kindness, consideration and caring personality. He may not think he deserves love of his own, but everyone else dear to him surely does.

"You can't ask for something if you don't believe you deserve it..."

When Deacon overhears a conversation he wasn't meant to hear, he decides that the best thing for Steve will be a life without Deacon in it, lest he bring Steve down to that level of darkness and hopelessness that has colored his entire outlook. I fully understood Deacon's actions in this part of the book, and I fully understood Steve's reaction, as wrong as it may have been. I could see a person who's never experienced that kind of life not understand the depths of confusion and fear that drove Deacon to take that step. A reaction like that, expected by Deacon, only feeds the black hole at the center of his being, confirming (even if wrong) that he just isn't worthy of love.

It was here that I cried again, not only for Deacon and Steve, but also for my friend. This book hit a little too close to home in many aspects. What saves the day is Ashley's decision to clear things up for Steve, and Steve demanding honesty from Deacon.

"I am trying, you know, to not be so sad, but it's not always easy, and I find myself falling back into self-destructive patterns."

Cue the tears!

But Steve is equally honest with Deacon, aware that their relationship may face some difficulties.

"Then I'll have to learn to cherish the good days and be content to hold your hand on the bad days. Isn't that what people do when they love each other?"

The plot point with Gale, Deacon's stepfather and Ashley's biological father, didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, unless it was simply to show that Deacon had a backbone and refused to be cowered (I was cheering the whole time he read his mother the riot act), as well as possibly forcing the issue of Deacon moving in with Steve. If the latter, another method might have been explored.

I can't really be objective about a book tackling these sorts of issues, because all I can do is helplessly rage and cry whenever I read or hear about parents not loving their children unconditionally and instead abusing them, whether it is verbally or physically. I will never not cry for those children who don't get to grow up secure and safe in the love of their parents. I will never not cry for those children who have to struggle each day and whose innocence and faith is broken by those who are supposed to love them the most.

There were some editing issues that should have been caught by an editor, including some spelling and grammatical issues. You're and your should never be mistaken. Shuttered isn't the same as shuddered.

During a scene at a local restaurant, we're first told that Deacon had never actually eaten there. A few sentences later, he "had been there once before, back when he was a kid". It took another few paragraphs for the explanation that he'd been there, but hadn't eaten there because they'd been asked to leave prior to the meal being served. This might have been better if edited slightly as to not cause confusion for this reader.

There was also an instance where Steve was described as 'fresh from the closet' in two consecutive sentences.

Still, this is a wonderful book that made me laugh and cry in almost equal measure, and it's deserving your time. Please give it a try!

I received a free ARC directly from Wilde City Press. A positive review was not promised in return.

Buy this book: Amazon | B&N | Wilde City Press

As always, thanks for stopping by. Until next time, happy reading!

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