Summary Review: A terrific story about two older protagonists who faced life head-on after being dealt a few tough blows.
Photographer Stuart Grange was happy with his suburbanite life until his partner was killed in a plane hijacking. Now he’s suddenly the face of gay rights in America and trying to deal with his new responsibility while coping with his overwhelming grief. He’s got his hands full without the complications of a new love, but his heart’s not waiting for him to catch up.
Commercial pilot Dustin McDonough knows what it’s like to deal with loss. He has his own set of scars, physical and emotional. He’s trying to give Stuart the time and space he needs to be ready to move on, but he’s in love for the first time in years, and he’s determined not to lose again.
I was hesitant to read this book because I was sure it would be an angst fest and I had had my fill of angst recently, but M. Jules Aedin really threw me a curve. This is the third book I have reviewed by this author and I expected that a book about two damaged protagonists, one who had recently lost his partner in a hijacking and another who had suffered a double tragedy would be a real downer, but Paper Planes was surprisingly funny and upbeat and I absolutely loved it.
Brendan Miller, Stuart’s partner, had been killed when he and other passengers on a commuter flight from Charlotte N.C. to Boston tried to stop a hijacking in a similar fashion to the ill fated Flight 93 a decade ago. Brendan was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedon and Stuart became the poster child for gay rights in the US . He was interviewed on television, quoted in the press, and when he wasn’t flying across the US for his job as a photographer he was doing speaking engagements around the country even though neither he nor Brendan had ever been gay rights activists before. Everyone wanted to hear from Stuart because he was Brendan’s partner and the gay community took the opportunity to show the world that for the second time in a decade a gay man had done something incredibly brave that was garnering the right kind of headlines although he had his detractors within the GBLT community.
On a flight to Dallas for yet another speaking engagement Stuart noticed that the captain, an Asian man about his own age, seemed to be interested in him but he thought nothing more about it although the captain was very attractive. After his presentation he waited around until everyone else was finished, killing time before his flight home. As he was preparing to leave for the airport someone called his name, and when he turned around there was Captain McDonough who had obviously attended the same GBLT function, holding his camera which he had forgotten in the room. It was then he realized that in place of his left leg, the captain, who was in shorts, had a prosthesis. Dustin McDonough invited Stuart to have dinner with him since there was a long wait until his flight and he offered to drive him to the airport in time to catch his flight. They had a great time at dinner and discovered they had a mutual love for vintage video games. All too soon it was time for them to leave for the airport but fate was not on their side (or maybe it was) as the traffic was gridlocked. Long story short, when they arrived at the airport it was too late for Stuart to check in so he had to book another flight leaving the next day. Dustin insisted that Stuart stay at his house for the night since he felt it was his fault he had missed his flight and Stuart accepted because it would save him the price of a hotel room, with the added inducement that he really liked Dustin. They had a wonderful evening together playing Tetris and getting to know each other better. Stuart slept on the couch despite the simmering attraction between them since he was not quite ready for anything in the romance department.
Neither Stuart nor Dustin had each other’s telephone number so they didn’t get in touch during the next 7 months. Almost a year and a half after Brendan’s death Stuart attended a huge GBLT rally in Washington D.C. in the capacity of official photographer. As he was checking the camera shots through the zoom lens he saw Dustin in the crowd but he was too far away to get his attention and they never connected. When he returned home Stuart decided to try and contact Dustin through FaceBook because seeing him again had re-ignited the attraction, and after they re-connected they spent the next several months texting, calling each other when they needed to talk, even having a bit of fun phone sex. Dustin had a really droll sense of humour which emerged at the oddest times and I thought that his character was very cool. 🙂 When they met again the romance kicked into high gear and the wait was well worth it as Stuart was now eager to move on after grieving over Brendan for 18 months.
I thought that the pacing of the romance was done exceedingly well and gave depth to Stuart’s character although there were a couple of areas where I would have wished it was a bit faster. The thread of Stuart’s caring and love for Brendan was woven throughout the story but not in a morbid way. It was wonderful to read a love story with two realistically drawn older protagonists. I loved the fresh, breezy style of writing and the unhurried flow of the romance which made the book a joy to read and the characters come alive. The tone of the book was not melancholy although the protagonists were obviously dealing with unimaginable loss, but the love they felt for each other shone through their inidividual tragedies. The sensitive way with which Dustin’s disability was handled and the physical accommodations that had to be made to ensure his comfort were done well and integrated into the story thoughtfully and not made into a big deal, although it was obvious that the author had done a lot of research into the topic. I could feel Dustin’s awkwardness and embarrassment when he took off his prosthesis in front of Stuart for the first time, and Stuart’s reaction was human.
This story was a terrific portrayal of a disabled man who didn’t dwell on the fact that he had lost a leg and had had other challenges during his life, but dealt with them pragmatically. Dustin was fun, charming, intelligent and he made light of his problems without minimizing them. One of the issues that came up during their lovemaking was Dustin’s fear that he would be inadequate and unable to satisfy Stuart sexually and that was handled surprising well, like everything else in the book. I have to hand it to Jules for addressing Dustin’s concerns factually and sensitively. As for Stuart, his character was well balanced and likable as I experienced all the strange happenings in his life especially his friends. One friend that I thought was a hoot was Mariluz, his lesbian sidekick who gave him her brand of relationship advice. 🙂
I loved the way that the romance was paced to respect the fact that Brendan was not forgotten and how hard it was for Stuart to move on, not in an angst filled way, but rather out of respect for Brendan’s memory. You have to read the book to understand the significance of the title Paper Planes, and here again Jules showed that she’s a very creative and clever writer. I had a couple of very minor niggles which prevented me from rating this book the full 5 stars but I always prefer a strong 4.75 than a weak 5 stars. I should warn you that if you’re looking for a fast paced story, Paper Planes is not the book for you.
I hope that Stuart and Dustin impress you as much as they moved me.