Twenty-two-year-old Alessandro Silva knows that returning to tiny Perch Creek to help his foster mother was the right thing to do. With no degree and a delinquent's reputation, he's lucky to have landed a job waiting tables. But not everyone is happy he's back, and the only thing keeping his move home from being a total bust is his boss's hot brother.
Jaime Winters spent most of his life watching the world go by, first from a series of hospitals and then from behind big stacks of textbooks. Studying is easier than facing the fact that years of heart failure means he's still a virgin at twenty-three. Until the new waiter in his sister's diner awakens desires he'd long ago given up on.
The last thing Alessandro wants is to fall for someone as fragile as Jaime. And Jaime may have a new heart, but he's scared of what giving it to another person would mean. Their no-strings-attached, instructional approach to sex keeps emotion safely at bay, until a secret from Alessandro's past forces them to confront their feelings in the present...
No Such Thing was a surprise for me. It looked like a general rite of passage kind of novel, you know the kind where the characters have to figure out where they belong and how they relate to each other, a coming of age novel about adults. But this book was so much more.
Everything I look for in a novel was here: complex and unique characters, main characters I can love, a plot other than just the rite of passage thing, a little action, a little drama, a little danger and excitement, and some hot sex. The secondary plot around the secret Alessandro has been keeping was actually pretty exciting and gave the story that extra something that made it really work for me. The pacing was excellent, keeping me enthralled and unable to put the book down.
I really appreciated how foster care was portrayed in this book. Some of the children in the novel had been moved around too much or mistreated in previous placements, but others were moved around because of behavior (which is the most common cause of children being removed from a home). While extreme behavior is understandable considering what most of these children have been through, it's hard for a family to deal with that 24/7. Alessandro explains to one child that the boy's continually worsening illegal behavior will ensure that the child is moved because sometimes the state makes the decisions when they think a foster parent can't handle the situation.
It's true that many foster parents are not good parents and have horrible reasons for taking in these children, and it's also true that many give up difficult children at the slightest provocation. But most are good people. There are foster parents who can and do take in and keep these children and the foster mother in No Such Thing is one of those. She is one of the good ones, and as I said, there are bad ones mentioned, too. As a therapeutic foster parent who does take in the most behaviorally challenged children, I was overwhelmed with appreciation for this honest and realistic depiction. It is so frustrating to see substitute caregivers like foster parents and relatives constantly vilified in the media, particularly in television dramas and books. The compassionate take on foster families made the story more vivid and real to me.
How the foster children were presented was also very knowledgeable.
"Shannon didn't have 'that look' on her face. That look of disappointment and suspicion he often saw from people who immediately distrusted folks who'd grown up in the foster-care system, as though the system bred criminals."
Some foster children in the book would be described as hoodlums, and others were normal kids. Acting out and inappropriate behavior are common to children who have been abused and mistreated so this behavior is perfectly reasonable considering what these children have been through, including being ripped from the only homes they've ever known and forced to live with complete strangers. As a youth, Alessandro got into trouble from possessing a deadly weapon (a knife) and going to juvenile hall, to self-mutilation from his bouts of with anger and depression but he still turned out okay. Unfortunately that doesn't happen as frequently as we would like, but it does happen.
The one problem I had with the book is that the characters treated homosexuality like it's an adult topic. It's not. Being gay isn't about sex, it's about love. Children of straight parents know their parents love each other, kids of gay parents know their parents love each other, so why can't children of straight parents know that men can love other men and women love other women? It would surely help with bigotry and hatred if these kinds of issues were dealt with early on; if people are exposed to these ideas from an early age. t sure would make it easier for a kid to come out knowing that their parents were fine with homosexuality. Yes, I know that supporting rights for gay people doesn't always translate into tolerance in a parent's views for their child being gay (believe me, I know this first hand), but it's a start.
One passage that particularly bothered me came after a ten-year-old boy says, "They said Jaime Winters is queer." A seven-year-old girl asks what that meant and the boy replies that it meant Jaime likes boys instead of girls. When the girl says, "So?", the mother--who does know that Jaime is gay and is fine with it--steps in and says, "This is not an appropriate dinnertime conversation...Please do not repeat idle gossip." They never revisit the topic until after something awful has happened and it is forced into the forefront. They never explain that the word "queer" is usually derogatory when said by a heterosexual, nor that hatred isn't okay, nor what gay means.
How is this not appropriate at that time? When else would they discuss it with the whole family? Any other time would be a family meeting or something like that which generally lends an air of negativity. One of the reasons families that have dinner together are more likely to have children who do well in life is because people talk with each other during dinner. I have to wonder what the reaction would be if the boy said, "They said Jaime Winters is dating a n****r." What parent wouldn't jump on that? Would a good parent just say that wasn't any okay word and move on or would he or she also say that it is okay for people to date people of different colors, etc., and that everyone is equal or something? I'd have an internal conniption fit but externally attempt to educate calmly. I can understand not wanting to out Jaime, but this woman is supposed to be an amazing parent and that response is just unacceptable. At the very least, it should have been discussed as soon as dinner was over.
What was particularly shocking was that this wasn't dinner table conversation but no one protects the children from hearing explicit and rather graphic details of the injury of someone they know and are worried about. I was horrified at what they were allowed to hear. Society in general has this backwards: kids can know about incredible violence but not sex, but in this instance the violence was personal, which is terrifying, and the other issue wasn't sex but love.
Despite these pieces that bothered me, over all the story was wonderfully gay positive and affirming. Alessandro does a great job of initiating Jaime into "the gay world." He makes sure they use condoms even though "Jaime was squeaky clean as a surgeon's table, but if they were doing this, they were doing it right from the start. And that meant getting used to condoms every single time." He takes such good care of Jaime, making sure the man feels safe and comfortable no matter what they're doing. When Jaime says stop, he stops immediately, no pushing, no judgments.
Alessandro is concerned that Jaime not become attached to the first person he has sex with. "Jamie needed to get out and experience other partners before he even thought about settling into a relationship." He takes him to a club to expose him to some gay culture. How the club was depicted fit my own experience at such venues and read very real to me. Seeing it from the point of view of someone new to the gay club scene, would, I think, help a reader unfamiliar with the experience.
There were all kinds of little details like this that were important and added depth to the story without bogging it down. Often these were simple things like not just opening a door but opening the screen door, too, or taking a duffel bag along to spend the night, or a character noticing a couple of corny things on a front stoop to show the place as being quaint and homey.
These details were particularly helpful when trying to describe the men's room at the gay nightclub. This isn't something most of M/M romance readers are familiar with. The description made the scene come alive:
"The bathroom had a long trench urinal, instead of individuals, and about half the length was occupied. Six stalls lined the opposite wall, four doors locked shut. Two of them had more than one pair of feet visible beneath the door."
This was a very simple description that told me that the bathroom was often very busy and that the extra urinal space was needed because people were frequently having sex in the stalls. Showing rather than telling can often be short and succinct and I think the author managed this well.
The sex scene after the club was one of the hottest scenes I've ever read. I wasn't always quite sure that the reactions were realistic for the characters but they were certainly typical of gay men. I liked that it was written this way, with men who don't know each other very well being very sexual with each other and just slipping into a menage a quatre/voyeur/exhibitionist scene. (You just have to read it, it's actually sweet.) It was particularly gratifying that this way of thinking, rather different from that of most women and therefore most heterosexual couples, was included and written as natural, not weird or unusual.
About that scene: (only spoils stuff that happens in the scene)
From the teenage Alessandro's perspective, the issue with Justin felt a lot bigger than it turned out to be. Alessandro feels guilty for what happened but I personally don't see what a messed up teenager was supposed to do differently. I actually said out loud, "That's it?" Granted, I'm not averse to saying things out loud when I'm reading, but still. Later, when more of the story came out, yes it was a huge deal, but that was after Alessandro had felt guilty for years without really knowing anything.
I was a little annoyed that there were some TSTL moments at the climax of the story. However, I understand it was needed for the plot, and I can live with it.
The end left me wanting more and I am extremely excited that there is a sequel coming out later this year. I am eager to read more of Jaime and Alessandro's story.
I received a advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.