From the blurb:
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship. Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long. When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
I went back and forth with my rating on this for some time, wavering between 3 and 4 stars. However, in the end, I couldn't get over some of my issues with this story, and though I really liked parts of it (and that cover is just... everything), I'm going with 3.5 stars.
When I first heard the synopsis of this story, I almost peed my pants in excitement. I've been meaning to read something by Santino Hassell for a looong time, and this book seemed to be a perfect place to start. Though I'm not from NYC exactly, I live in a suburb of NYC (under 20 miles away), and my whole family lives in New York. My mom is a Queens girl, born and bred, and my cousins and aunts and uncles on that side all live in either Jackson Heights or Forest Hills. To boot, my cousin and sister-in-law are both teachers in Brooklyn, so I have a VERY good working knowledge of everything, content-wise, in this story.
I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but this book is, IMO, very gritty and fairly angsty. I wasn't really prepared for Michael to be such a downer character. I felt like, for the majority of the story, he was unfocused as a teacher, wallowing in his personal issues, and not really being there for Nunzio. I didn't love being stuck in only Michael's head, as this book is told in a singular POV, and I wish I also got a sense of what Nunzio was feeling. When Michael ditches Nunzio and their planned trip near the beginning of the book, I felt like Nunzio handled that waaayyyy better than I would have. I also didn't get to hear about any of Nunzio's experiences and emotions, which I really missed.
Now, even though I had trouble relating to Michael, I also got what the author was going for with him. He is a guy struggling with a lot of issues and teetering on the edge of a total meltdown. Balancing the demands of his drunkard, abusive father (who, I think, didn't deserve Michael's time or sympathy), his lost-boy brother, Nunzio, and teaching is an extremely difficult task. However, I think that Michael's downward spiral near the middle/end of the story was pretty sudden and a little ill-fitting with his character and past history.
I think my favorite part of the book was the HOT, and I mean HOT, sex. The author really got into a gritty, raw head space and created some sex scenes that blew my mind. Though the sex scenes contained one of my major pet peeves ((view spoiler)[unprotected sex without being in a relationship... gah!! (hide spoiler)]), I tried to look past it and get into the vibe that the author was trying to create.
I'm not sure how I feel about the character of David. At times, I felt like he was meddlesome and cluttered the plot a little, but I know that the author was setting the stage for David's own story. I also didn't like how David habitually cheated on his boyfriend... I'm not sympathetic to stuff like that. However, at times I liked David, especially when we got to see him in David's work setting. I'm ambivalent about him, overall.
I think my favorite character, surprisingly, was Michael's brother, Raymond, and I think I'll be looking forward to his book the most. I can't WAIT to get into his head and see where he'll take us. I have a feeling it is going to be HOT! I also liked Nunzio, but I felt like he was often getting shafted and ignored, and I really needed to see more of his thoughts firsthand to get a better picture of him.
As you can see, this review is a mishmash of conflicting views and options. I think fans of the author will embrace this story with open arms, but though I enjoyed it, I'm looking forward to moving on to the other books in this series.
*Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*
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