Please join me in welcoming Liz Jacob to Gay Book Reviews talking about her favorite M/M books! Leave your OWN favorite M/M books in the comments section for a change to win the ebook of your choice!
Recs: London & Immigration & Coming Out, Oh My!
ABROAD explores several college students’ journeys of self-discovery against the backdrop of one of my favorite places, London. It also tackles something that has been a huge part of my life since the age of eleven—immigration. So I wanted to rec several books that I thought did all of this particularly—in fact, spectacularly—well.
Let’s start with London: Alexis Hall’s masterful FOR REAL is not precisely a coming-of-age story. However, one of its heroes, Toby, is young enough that, had he not dropped out of school, he would be at university. His journey is different, but no less important. In fact, amid his May-December romance with Laurie, who is established in his profession if not his private life, Toby learns a lot about who he is. He discovers, bit-by-bit, what drives him, what he is capable of, and how to stay true to himself while growing up. And all of this gorgeousness takes place in London, which comes to full life in Hall’s stunning prose. We see London both through Toby’s young eyes and Laurie’s privileged gaze. We see it as the only place this book could have been set in; we see it as another character. Their romance takes them all over the sprawling city, and everywhere they go, it turns just that much more clear and beautiful to the reader’s eye.
For a wonderful portrayal of college life, we first turn to Amy Jo Cousins’ OFF CAMPUS. Here, too, the main characters grow and learn about both themselves and each other. For Tom, part of it is discovering his sexuality in ways he never expected; for Reese, it’s coming into his power and learning about his own strength. All of this is set against a realistic and engaging college setting, which almost makes you want to go back to college—almost. It’s a very tender and honest book about the growing pains of finishing school and knowing that adulthood is just around the corner, and you can’t slow down time.
My other favorite college-age story is Roan Parrish’s WHERE WE LEFT OFF. Similarly to FOR REAL, only one of the characters is of college age, while the other is long past it. Unlike in OFF CAMPUS, Leo, our intrepid main character, is just starting college. He is certain of himself in the way of the very young, but also wise beyond his years. His struggles with love and wanting to be loved by a man who should, by all accounts, set Leo free but isn’t able to, are incredibly relatable and almost heartbreaking in their genuineness. Leo is open—to everything, to anything, but especially to love and his newly found NYU family. It’s an absolutely delicious take on a May-let’s say-September romance, as well as an authentic portrayal of college life.
When I was first told by a friend to read Courtney Milan’s TRADE ME, it was because of the thoughtful and nuanced way that Milan examines privilege of all kinds. What I hadn’t expected was the gut punch of a truly incisive portrayal of immigration. Tina’s Chinese family is drawn in the most tender, heartbreaking ways. There were moments where it hit so close to home, I had to put the book down and just breathe, because it made me feel so much. I had never before felt such a kinship with an immigrant story, for all that my family’s history is quite different to Tina’s. It’s a testament to Milan’s skills and ability to thread the needle of a topic that can quite often be difficult to pin down (to mix my metaphors). It’s painful, and it’s beautiful, and it’s very, very true.
Title: Abroad (Hellum & Neal #1)
Author: Liz Jacobs
Publisher: Brain Mill Press
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Genre(s): Contemporary/College Aged
Page Count: 362
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while…
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
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Nick didn’t feel better in the morning. At three am, his anxiety had been a shapeless thing, with weight and texture but part of dreams, too. A sort of terrifying unreality he had to breathe through.
At eight am, as his alarm shrieked at him to wake the fuck up, the shapeless, textured thing coalesced into something more terrifying than the nightly ghosts. If, at ten years old, he’d been aware that being unable to answer the kids on the bus who asked him why his teeth looked the way they did would someday end, at twenty, he knew better.
He wanted men. He hadn’t really wanted Lena, in all the years they’d been together. He hadn’t really wanted Ashley during sophomore year when they’d kissed in the art classroom, her hair tickling his palms where his hands had trembled on her shoulders, and later humped fruitlessly in her sunroom, sweaty and shaky and half-hard.
He wanted Dex. Of all people, of all the people he had met, he wanted him so much, his hands ached with it. Nick was past denying anything. All he knew now was the whine in his chest that told him truth frightened more than denial.
Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.