Friday, November 23, 2018

ARC Review: Worth Fighting For by Wendy Qualls

Worth Fighting For (Heart of the South #3)Blurb:

For two gay men in the Deep South, fighting for love and family can lead to one beautiful, sexy, and unexpected knock out . . .

In college, an “are you sure you’re gay?” experiment with his (female) best friend left Sterling Harper married with a baby on the way. Eleven years later, his life is flipped upside-down—his wife has died, his “little boy” is transitioning to her new life as a girl, Alexa, and his embittered in-laws have proven too transphobic to babysit for the summer like they’d planned. They’re fighting for custody of Alexa, though, so Sterling can’t afford to give them more ammunition. If only there were a nice, conservative, trans-preteen-friendly nanny available on short notice . . .
Jericho Johnston doesn’t do “conservative,” but Alexa takes to him immediately. He’s got a teaching job lined up for the fall, a killer smile, and loads of charisma . . . but he is not going back in the proverbial closet. It doesn’t take long for the two men to go from comrades-in-arms against their rarified community to two men in love. This kicks off the looming custody battle with Sterling’s bigoted in-laws, though, and the idea of two gay men raising a trans daughter isn’t going over well with anyone. Now, with so much to lose, Sterling and Jericho must fight harder than ever—for themselves, for Alexa, and for their future.

My rating:

This is the third book in a series, but can be read as a standalone - I haven't read the previous books, and had no issues at all here.

When in college, Sterling had a little "are you sure you're gay" experiment with his female best friend, which resulted in a pregnancy and a subsequent marriage. Now 11 years later, Sterling has lost his wife, and is now raising Alexa, his transgender daughter, on his own.

As his in-laws are homophobic and transphobic a$$holes who continue to deadname Sterling's daughter, even when repeatedly told not to, he's not willing to leave Alexa with them for the summer as planned, and hires someone to be a live-in nanny instead, while he goes to work as a busy dentist in an practice he hopes to buy out at some point.

Enter Jericho. Needing a transitional job before starting a teaching position after the summer, Jericho jumps at the chance to move in with Sterling and Alexa. As a gay POC, he knows only too well how bigoted people in the Deep South still are, and it comes as no surprise to him that the in-laws are a$$holes.

With close proximity, the two men build a strong friendship that slowly turns to more - while falling in love wasn't in the plans, love happens when you least expect it. Obviously, Sterling coming out as gay, having a gay live-in lover, and raising his daughter, enrages the in-laws, and they sue for custody.

I really like both Sterling and Jericho quite a bit. Sterling clearly struggles - not only is he deeply in the closet, he's also realizing that loving his daughter for who she is unfortunately isn't enough. He has to learn to navigate the waters of handling a pre-teen, with all that entails, on top of Alexa's transition and the subsequent issues at school and elsewhere (people are awful, as expected). Sterling needs to find some backbone - his desire to keep everyone happy, to not argue, to not stand up for himself only backfires, and it wasn't until the very last moment that he found the strength to fight back, just in the nick of time.

Jericho is much stronger than Sterling. Having dealt most of his life with prejudice in small town southern USA, he provides quiet support to Sterling as the man finds his way, but also becomes a strong advocate for Alexa's transition, shielding her from her grandparents' hate as much as he can. He's fully aware that the job is temporary, and that the relationship may not survive the summer, but he's willing to risk his heart to help Jed and Alexa navigate through the struggles.

While the in-laws appear to be caricature Southern Baptists Bigots, I have heard too many people utter the same homophobic and transphobic BS they spew in the area in which I live, and I know that this stuff is still rampant among the oh-so-Christian people in the South. Christ would be horrified if he knew what misery and hate people spread in his name.

Obviously, there are some tense, nail-biting moments, as we fear with Sterling and Jericho to find out whether Alexa will be forced to live with the bigots and as the boy she isn't, or if she'll be allowed to stay with her father, who loves her unconditionally and only wants what is best for her.

Spoiler (not really) - Love Wins!

Thankfully, things are starting to slowly change in this country, despite those who are still screaming their bigotry from the pulpit, as the younger generations stop buying into hatred, and start looking at people as just that - people.

I loved this book. This is the type of book we clamor for - positive and inclusive of all things LGBTQ, and a realistic portrayal of complex characters. More of this, please!

** I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. **

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