Tuesday, September 22, 2020

ARC Review: The Family We Make by Dan Wingreen


Spencer Kent gave up on love a long time ago. As a twenty-eight-year-old single father with a fourteen-year-old son, Connor, he knows his appeal to the average gay man is limited, and when you factor in his low self-esteem and tendencies towards rudeness and sarcasm, it might as well be nonexistent. But that’s okay. A man is the last thing Spencer needs or wants.

Tim Ellis’s life is falling apart around him. After four years of hard work at college, he finds himself blacklisted from the career of his dreams by the professor he refused to sleep with and abandoned by the boyfriend he thought he was going to marry. Even though he was lucky enough to land a job at a bakery, he still feels like a failure.

Tim and Spencer’s first meeting is filled with turbulent misunderstanding, but Tim makes a connection with Connor through a Big Brother/Big Sister program, and both men put aside their mutual dislike for his sake. By letting go, they may help each other find their way into a life they never could have imagined.

Warning: References to attempted sexual coercion by a male professor towards a male college student, references to a female high school teacher having sexual relations with unnamed underage male students.

Sandra's review:

This will most likely make my list of top 10 reads of 2020. I just loved this book. I loved the characters, I loved the story, I loved the awkward "meet cute" - in short, I love everything about this.

At the core, this book is about exactly what the title promises - The Family We Make for ourselves.

Spencer Kent, 28, kinda short, kinda snarky, is an English Lit teacher at a highschool, gay, and a single father to a 14 yo boy named Connor. His son is his whole life, except when he is able to torture freshman high schoolers with English Lit assignments, and Spencer has no delusions about being quality dating material as a single father, therefore he's not had a date or adult relationship in, well, 14 years.

Tim Ellis, kinda tall, kinda shy, has freshly graduated college with a degree in psychology, but is being blackmailed by a dirty prof to either sleep with him or be blacklisted for joining a Masters program. Tim chooses being blacklisted, which dashes his hopes of post grad studies and getting his Masters degree. Having also lost the man he hoped to marry (good riddance, in my opinion), Tim now finds himself working in a bakery and mostly regretting all his life choices.

There's a rather awkward "meet cute", which had me squinting at Spencer for a bit, but I quickly forgave him (as did Tim) for being such a big dork and rude to boot, because he was ever so sorry when he realized what he had insinuated.

I'm not going into any specific plot details in this review, because this is the kind of book you need to let unfold without any preconceived notions. Thus, I'm only going to talk about the quality of the writing, as well as the perfection of these characters, who are complex and multi-faceted, and have good and bad personality traits.

There is biting snark, primarily from Spencer's side, which he uses to hide behind a massive brick wall of insecurity and fear of being vulnerable. Tim hides his own feelings and fears behind a mask of happy-go-lucky, for reasons. I felt sorry for Connor, bullied and scared, and too shy and self-conscious to find the confidence to make friends. Being the teacher's kid is not cool, as you know.

While neither Spencer, nor Tim, nor Connor are in any way, shape or form perfect, they are in effect a perfectly self-made family, because once they click, they REALLY click, and the relationships between Spencer and Tim, and Connor and Tim, become pretty much effortless, almost as if they'd known each other their entire lives or were molded as perfect pieces of the Kent/Ellis family puzzle.

The writing itself is engaging, crisp, detailed, and emotional. There is witty banter in the dialogue, usually from Spencer, but Tim gives almost as good as he gets. The author did a fine job creating believable dialogue between the two men (sometimes adorkable, but I loved that), as well as between Spencer and his son, and Tim and Connor also. Connor's teenage angst is evident in his speech and demeanor, and there are the kind of typical clashes between father and son I would expect at this age. There are emotional moments within that made my eyes tear up, and there were emotional moments within that had me grinning like a loon.

All in all - you should read this book. You should read it, love it, and then read it again. This book is about as close to perfection (IMHO) as I could have wished for. This is an author to watch, for sure!

** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher. A positive review was not promised in return. **

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