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Friday, February 4, 2011

'Something Like Summer' by Jay BELL

From the BLURB:

Love, like everything in the universe, cannot be destroyed. But over time it can change.

The hot Texas nights were lonely for Ben before his heart began beating to the rhythm of two words; Tim Wyman. By all appearances, Tim had the perfect body and ideal life, but when a not-so-accidental collision brings them together, Ben discovers that the truth is rarely so simple. If winning Tim’s heart was an impossible quest, keeping it would prove even harder as family, society, and emotion threaten to tear them apart.

Something Like Summer is a love story spanning a decade and beyond as two boys discover what it means to be friends, lovers, and sometimes even enemies.

Benjamin Bentley came out of the closet when he was fourteen. His parents are loving and accepting, as is his best friend Allison. If only the same could be said of Ben’s classmates. Ever since Ben came out of the closet he has been the school piranha – bullied by the jocks, sneered at by the cheerleaders and even his teachers are wary of his open sexuality. It’s no surprise that Ben is the only ‘out’ teenager at his Houston school . . . and if he’s honest, he can’t ever imagine meeting someone and finally having a proper boyfriend.

And then Mr Blue Shoes runs by.

The summer before senior year Ben spots a new face around town. A tall, dark, handsome senior has just moved into the area and Ben is smitten. But then school starts and Tim Wyman (aka ‘Mr Blue Shoes’) turns out to be just like all the rest. He hangs with the jocks, starts dating the prettiest prom queen and wouldn’t look twice at Ben . . . until the day that Ben literally crashes into him.

What starts as friendship soon has Ben receiving his first kiss and desperately wishing that Tim would come out of the closet and into the open with him. But where Ben is happy being honest with himself, Tim is wary of his pious parents and becoming a school outcast. Tim is the love of Ben’s young life, but Ben doesn’t want to be anyone’s dirty secret and their affair ends on a sour note. . .

Skip ahead four years and Ben is studying in Chicago when he meets Jace. Jace is a twenty-six-year-old air steward who makes Ben’s head spin. Until Jace, Ben was still hung up on Tim and what could have been. But Jace makes him forget, and pretty soon the pair fall madly in love and dream of a romantic Parisian holiday together. And then Ben bumps into Tim, again. Tim, who is now openly gay and desperate for a do-over with the one that got away.

‘Something Like Summer’ is an M/M romance from Jay Bell. The book opens in Houston, Texas in 1996 and follows Ben and Tim’s various encounters up until the year 2008.

I loved this novel. It was a very tender and true examination of first love and second chances, while also being a very earnest examination of young gay love.

Tim and Ben are each other’s high school sweethearts. But their story is vastly different from the typical heterosexual tale of first love. Usually when a boy and girl embark on first love in high school the romance has an expiration date – it will run its course and end through nobody’s fault but moving away for college or simply outgrowing each other. But it’s different for gay teenagers, Ben and Tim especially. Ben and Tim’s high school romance didn’t get to run its course . . . their affair came to an abrupt and painful end because Tim was unwilling to admit his feelings for Ben and be open about his sexuality. In other words, their relationship didn’t die of natural causes, and as a result both men spend the next twelve years wondering “what if?” It’s the sort of pondering that could send a person insane. Always second-guessing and wondering if you let ‘the one’ get away simply because you (or they) weren’t brave enough to admit to that love. This is not the sort of dilemma typical young heterosexual couples ever have to go through.

I loved how Jay Bell spanned this love story over yearly intervals. We meet Tim and Ben when they are teenagers – and as a reader, you can see Ben’s heartache coming a mile away. I was reading that first stretch of time with my heart in my throat – because Ben was adorable and vulnerable. He felt like he’d found a life-raft in Tim, someone to love and understand him . . . unfortunately, Tim was scared. It’s understandable, but I still felt for Ben and for the unfair predicament that being gay in high school put both boys through. Remember, this novel is set in 1996. There’s no ‘Will and Grace’ and certainly no Kurt Hummel ballads on ‘Glee’.
“Pff,” came the reply. “Please. This is a 3000GT!”
“Right.” Ben risked a glance over to see Tim wearing an expression of mock offense.
“What kind of guy doesn’t know his cars?” Tim pushed.
“I’ll give you three guesses,” Ben said evenly.
Tim was silent for a moment. “So it’s true?”
Ben let a slow smile play over his face. He loved this part. It always felt like revealing to a disbeliever that he had magical powers or something. “Yup.”
“Hmmm.”
That took Ben off guard, since it wasn’t the usual response. Normally, one of two things would happen. The guy would either play it off like he wasn’t surprised and name some random gay uncle or somebody else he barely knew to show that he was both worldly and accepting of such things, or he would slide straight into being offensive. Tim had done neither and opted for a musing “hmmm.” Whatever that meant.
I was thrilled when Ben met Jace. Jace, who was uncomplicated, honest and thoroughly infatuated with Ben. Though Ben has been out of the closet for years, Jace marks his first really mature relationship and I loved reading about Ben finally finding happiness. And then Tim reappears – now openly gay and in hot pursuit of Ben. If Jay Bell hadn’t written such a tempting character in young Tim, I may have been annoyed by his reappearance and interrupting of Ben and Jace’s blissful happiness. But Bell’s woven back-story for these men coupled with the undercurrents of lust and longing, mean that it’s impossible to begrudge Ben his continued yearning. I never knew who Ben would end up with . . . or who I wanted him to be with. Jace, who was always so honest and loving. Or Tim, who clearly needed Ben’s redemptive love. Jay Bell writes a perplexing love triangle that’s as frustrating as it is titillating.

A good portion of ‘Something Like Summer’ is written from Ben’s perspective as a senior in high school. But then the novel jumps ahead to eventually end with Ben in his early thirties. There are a few sex scenes and constant lusting throughout – but I would still recommend this book to young adult readers. Especially young gay readers.

The novel is very honest about what it is to be a gay teenager – both ‘out’ and closeted. Aside from some very stark frankness about what young boys get up to at sleepovers, Jay Bell also explores the many facets of being young and gay (without ever sounding like a preachy Lifetime channel movie).

Quite a lot of young adult gay romances feature a young person who has yet to come out and admit their homosexuality. In a lot of these novels, you get the impression that coming out is the be all and end all – the magic solution to every problem in a gay teenagers’ life. Not the case, as Ben illustrates. Ben is a very well-adjusted young man; he became open about his sexuality at a young age and he is very comfortable with who he is. He has very supportive parents and an amazing best friend. But none of these things equate to an easy time for Ben. He still gets picked on at school. He has no avenues for meeting like-minded gay teenagers. For all of his openness and honesty, Ben is still quite lonely.
Meanwhile, Tim is at the opposite end of the spectrum – gay, but unwilling to admit it. He’s scared of his parent’s wrath and damaged social status.
I appreciated the fact that Jay Bell told both sides to the gay story. I can’t say that either has a happy high school ending, or that Jay Bell is prescribing one course of action over the other . . . I think it’s just more likely that high school is hard for everyone. Nobody really knows who they are and everyone just wants to fit in and not be ostracized.

‘Something Like Summer’ is amazing. Aside from an awesome 90’s soundtrack (seriously, everything from Beck to Lauryn Hill is mentioned!) Jay Bell has written one of the most heart-felt and sincere M/M romances I have ever encountered. This is a love story that spans twelve years – a story all about getting a second chance with ‘the one that got away’.

5/5

3 comments:

  1. wow that sounds amazing!! Me wants it!! Going to amazon to look for it right now!

    Awesome review hon! =d

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  2. You WON'T be disappointed--I promise! It's a wonderfully written book that has it all. It's witty and charming, with clear writing that allows the reader to experience a spectrum of emotions that leaves you wanting more.

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  3. wow, this is a very well written book review, capturing the essence of this book. I just finished it yesterday and I am reading it again. It's the first book that genuinely touched me and made me cry!

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