A Guest Review by Sammy
Review Summary: A thoughtful and sweet take on the classic gay for you theme.
Blurb: When he was sixteen years old, Rich Miller saved a young man from drowning at his local pool. Little did he know that years later, as a senior in college and Olympic diving hopeful, Rich would meet up once again with Johnny Milloway, now a big football player – and when Rich says big, he really means ‘bear’. The shy jock remembers his saviour, and the two men become friends.
Johnny isn’t put off by the fact that Rich is gay. In fact, the more time he spends with Rich, the more curious he becomes. Johnny wants to know all kinds of things – what it’s like to kiss a guy, for instance. Only it doesn’t stop there…
Rich finds it difficult to believe that this relationship can go anywhere. Johnny is straight, and Rich isn’t prepared to deal with the heartache he knows will come his way in the future. He has enough on his plate as it is – the Worlds are just around the corner, his father would rather watch a football game than spend time watching his son dive…. What he doesn’t count on is Johnny, who can be very determined. And having Johnny in his life proves to be a catalyst for some pretty earth-shattering changes.
Review: Rich can taste the Olympics. He has been building to this with every dive he has made for years and it is now within his grasp if only he can remain injury free. In his senior year at university, he is independent, proud, out and determined. Diving is his passion and he is hungry for a win. He is controlled and scheduled and prefers to hit the gym for his weight and resistance training early in the morning before the crowds interfere with his concentration. To his surprise, someone else had the same idea as him. John was a mountain-sized freshman footballer. Gentle and sweetly shy, John recognizes Rich from years before as the 16-year-old lifeguard who saved him by pulling him from the community pool before he drowned. Rich had become the town hero after that and many doors had opened for him, bringing him to this place where the Olympic medal was in his reach.
John offers to buy Rich a cup of coffee and from there the two begin to meet daily to work out together. Within a short time, John springs an unusual request on Rich. Would he kiss John? You see, John is straight but he has always wondered what it would be like…to be with a guy. Not just any guy, but someone he liked, a friend, someone special. Reluctantly Rich agrees and the kiss sparks some interesting physical reactions in John and Rich both. As lines blur, Rich finds himself giving into this sweet bear of a man and venturing further and further into experimentation with him. Unfortunately, while Rich is very controlled in almost all aspects of his life, his heart is another matter and he quickly realizes that he is in danger of losing his to a self-proclaimed straight football player.
At first, I was cautious about the trajectory of this novel, My Hero by Max Vos. I have read countless coming out/gay for you stories and it is very rare that any move beyond the normal pattern. Author Max Vos blew any concerns right off the page for me by making his characters both heavily flawed and genuinely smart. Johnny was the real deal, sweet but slightly naive. He liked Rich, considered him a friend and felt that they could enter into an exploratory sexual relationship on a trial basis and still be okay, remain buddies. When things got intense and John felt as though he was being pushed toward the idea of being gay, he reacted by flipping right back into straight guy mode only to discover how far he had fallen. Somewhere in the midst of this experiment, Rich had become more than his “lab partner”, he had become someone whom John had to now come to some sort of decision about or risk losing completely. Was he in love with Rich or did he just love him as a friend? Was this the real kind of love where losing Rich would mean that a life without him would be unthinkable?
Here is where the author set his story apart from any other. There was so much inner turmoil for John. It wasn’t just his denial that he was gay, but a real questioning about if it was right for him to string along this guy he really liked as a friend foremost while he made his decision. Yes, the sex was copious, yes, it was hot, but it also mirrored John and Rich’s emotions, they ran hot and fast but there were times of genuine confusion that these boys really thought through rather than running from. With each act of making love, not only did John become more confused about his sexuality but his heart also became more connected to Rich. Frankly, this was new, a different way to handle a well-worn trope. Finally a gay for you theme wasn’t just based on a quick meet and speedy revelation that now the guy is gay. Here was a well-written and thoughtful story with some truly gut-wrenching investment over a life changing decision.
Then there was Rich, who tried his best to keep his emotions in check and be realistic about John’s desire to experiment. When things began to fall apart, I was so pleased to see a character that was surrounded by older men whom he could confide in and who genuinely cared for him. This enabled him to make decisions about John in a more realistic way. I believed his struggle and, in my opinion, this made the story so much better overall. There was such a sense of maturity about these characters. For once, two men coming to terms with their love for each other was done slowly and with great care on the part of the writer.
Underlying this coming out story was a secondary plot line between Rich and his estranged father. As time moves on, it becomes apparent to Rich that his own father seems more invested in Johnny and his career than that of his son. But author Max Vos navigates this troubled relationship carefully, weaving moments into the broader story and revealing not only the pain that Rich endures from a father who seemingly wants nothing to do with him but also the reasons behind the strained father/son relationship. In fact some of the sweetest moments in this novel happen when these two finally meet to discuss just what it was that made father and son relative strangers.
I will admit that the text was not completely clean—there were some errors like missing and misspelled words. However, they were not frequent or overwhelming, just distracting when they occurred. My real problem with this novel was the two younger female characters. John’s cousin, Anita, and Rich’s friend, Ruthie, were a bit strident to me, nosy and bossy. I felt that they came very close to falling into that stereotypical “nasty girl” character that honestly gives women a bad name overall. They were very physical—hitting the two boys when angry and “screaming” at them.
In particular, John’s cousin, Anita, called him some horribly derogatory names when he messed up and hurt Rich, going as far as to slap him across the face. I felt she was written as an “ugly and unkind” character and I questioned why that was necessary. To be frank, I felt John could have been shown how he messed up in a less bitchy way. I felt these girls were just over the top and their vicious rants really detracted from the story. In fact, it was this element that kept me from giving this story a high rating, that is how much the two women impacted the flow of what was, up until then and after, a lovely romance overall.
My Hero by Max Vos had some beautiful moments that carried this novel and made it just that much better. The romance angle was sweet and caring. The young men were written with some real intelligence and proved to be respectful of each other; no users, simply young hearts grappling over a first real love. The story was well done for the most part and I look forward to reading more of this authors work.