Author: Amy Lane
Cover Artist: Shobana Appavu
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel (270 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
A Guest Review by jeayci
Review Summary: A sweet, satisfying story that I think would make a great introduction to Amy Lane’s books for those who have been scared off by her Queen of Angst reputation, while adding yet another to the favorite list for her existing fans.
Blurb: The year is 1987. The boys wear pink Izod shirts, the girls wear big hair, everyone has a stash box, and AIDS is just an ugly rumor rumbling like a thunderstorm from the cities. A teenage runaway wanders the side of the road, a heartbeat away from despair, and is rescued by a long-haired angel on a Harley.
But that’s just the beginning of their story.
Josiah Daniels wanted peace and quiet and a simple life, and he had it until he rescued Casey from hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Then Joe’s life is anything but simple as he and his new charge navigate a world that is changing more rapidly than the people in it. Joe wants to raise Casey to a happy and productive adulthood, and he does. But even as an adult, Casey can’t conceive of a happy life without Joe. The trouble is getting Joe to accept that the boy he nurtured is suddenly the man who wants him.
Their relationship can either die or change with the world around them. As they make a home, negotiate the new rules of growing up, and swerve around the pitfalls of modern life, Casey learns that adulthood is more than sex, Joe learns that there is no compromise in happy ever after, and they’re both forced to realize that the one thing a man shouldn’t be is alone.
Review: This was characteristic Amy Lane, complete with bouts of simultaneous tears and laughter, and even more occasions of one or the other. The story was sweet and touching, neither too angsty nor too syrupy, though there were certainly moments of each. This was a wonderful warm, sweet glow of a story.
Joe was a wonderful guardian to Casey, determined he should have a childhood while he was still a child. Joe was also very clear that he had no sexual interest in children, and Casey was a child; in Joe’s mind anyway, if not in Casey’s. So although Casey lusted for Joe almost right away, there was never anything inappropriate. Their relationship was the epitome of “slow bloom” as it took a while for Joe to even recognize that Casey had grown up, let alone what his feelings for him meant.
I loved that Joe was a truly bisexual character, as bi-erasure is far too common in m/m, not to mention the “real” world. And because Joe was bi and wanted children, it made sense that he’d prefer to spend his life with a woman. Especially considering how much less opportunity there was back then for gay men to adopt children. So there was a believable and heart-wrenching tension as Joe had to choose whether to sacrifice a life with Casey or his dream of having children. The ultimate outcome was all the more satisfying for the razor edge we walked in getting to it.
On the subject of “back then,” I was a little surprised by Casey’s ignorance of the importance of condoms in 1988. How he learned about it was very, very well done, if you weren’t expecting him to know already. But we’re the same age and I already knew by January of 1988 (when I was given a condom by a concerned friend who was horrified I didn’t carry one in my wallet. He was cute, so I wasn’t about to confess I had no need of them yet! Had I been bolder, I might have asked if he wanted to use it with me. But I digress). I grew up in Berkeley rather than Bakersfield, so that might explain many things.
However, Casey watched even more television than I did, and I remember being bombarded with commercials like the guy pulling on his sock and saying “It’s as easy as that!” or words to that effect. AIDS was a Very Big Deal. Not that it’s not now, but it was…interesting…to come of sexual age just as the world learned that sex could kill, in a big way. It was the antithesis of what our parents experienced in their wild and crazy youth, with the advent of the birth control pill and Free Love. So that pulled me out of the story a bit, but it’s possible my crowd was precocious; it might not bother anyone who grew up outside of the San Francisco area or who is older or younger than I am. And aside from that one niggle, I thought the story depicted that time perfectly, complete with music and movie references that pulled me right back.
I also had another niggle, one that pertained to the writing style. I have such a tendency to use parentheses in my writing, you might wonder if I get paid by the paren (if only; I’d be seriously wealthy!). I’ve learned to watch for and evaluate each one: is this one necessary? Is there another way I might phrase that? What about this one? And even doing that, I still use too many. So I’m highly sensitized to their presence, and I’ve observed that I’m sometimes – but not always – bothered by an over-usage of them in Amy Lane’s books. I’ve wondered if that’s characteristic of her writing in all her books, but I only notice it in books that engage me less. Or do I get less engaged in books with more parens? I noticed many (too many) parentheses in this story, while also being utterly engaged in it, so the mystery continues.
In some ways, Joe reminded me of Deacon from Keeping Promise Rock, my absolute favorite Amy Lane book, one of my all-time favorite m/m books, and a favorite book in general. So for a book or character to remind me of KPR is a mixed blessing; chances are the comparison won’t be favorable, but it’s an honor to be compared at all. I think I’d felt shades of Deacon throughout Sidecar, but didn’t fully articulate it until Joe and Casey had a conversation so similar to one between Deacon and Crick, for a moment they were almost super-imposed over the book. Casey didn’t particularly remind me of Crick, but at that point I realized I could see a lot of Deacon in Joe. Maybe it just had to do with them both being the sort of men described in the dedication:
“This is for men like my husband and father who believe parenthood is a sacrament and good works bring us closer to the good in the universe, for whom gentleness is not weakness and flaws are forgivable, who struggle daily between what is good and what is easy and very nearly land on the right side of that every single time.”
I think the very nearly landing on the right side every time is much of what makes them such lovable characters. If they always landed on the side of right, they’d be perfect, unbelievable, and boring. But because they struggle and strive and very nearly land on the right side of that every single time, they’re the stuff of which heroes are made.
Despite my disclaimer about the probable outcome of any comparison, I wouldn’t say Sidecar suffers in comparison to KPR, because they’re such very different stories even if there are some underlying similarities. Despite the subject matter, this really is not angsty. It’s a deeply satisfying book that had enough tension and conflict to pull me in, make me care, make me laugh and cry, but it never felt over the top.
For those who already love Amy Lane, this will be another addition to the “favorites” collection. And for those who have been curious about her books but nervous about her Queen of Angst reputation, this book could be the perfect introduction. Highly recommended.