Him by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

HimWhy I read it:  I was provided with a review copy via the authors.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  They don’t play for the same team. Or do they?

Jamie Canning has never been able to figure out how he lost his closest friend. Four years ago, his tattooed, wise-cracking, rule-breaking roommate cut him off without an explanation. So what if things got a little weird on the last night of hockey camp the summer they were eighteen? It was just a little drunken foolishness. Nobody died.

Ryan Wesley’s biggest regret is coaxing his very straight friend into a bet that pushed the boundaries of their relationship. Now, with their college teams set to face off at the national championship, he’ll finally get a chance to apologize. But all it takes is one look at his longtime crush, and the ache is stronger than ever.

Jamie has waited a long time for answers, but walks away with only more questions—can one night of sex ruin a friendship? If not, how about six more weeks of it? When Wesley turns up to coach alongside Jamie for one more hot summer at camp, Jamie has a few things to discover about his old friend…and a big one to learn about himself.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Ryan “Wes” Wesley and Jamie Canning meet up again for the first time in four years at the NCAA Frozen Four Championship in Boston. They met at “Elites” a spiffy hockey training summer camp they both went to as kids.  Every year, Wes and Jamie hung out together at the camp in Lake Placid and their bond of friendship was strong. 

Wes is gay and out at college but preparing to head back into the closet, at least for a while, when he starts playing for a Toronto NHL team after graduation. He figures he will need to prove himself to the team before he can risk his sexuality becoming known.  His plan is to be celibate for a good long while. Not something he’s looking forward to.  At college, Wes didn’t hide his sexual orientation but he also didn’t flaunt it. It was kind of an open secret and apart from with one of his (straight) buddies on the team, it wasn’t discussed.

When Wes last saw Jamie four years earlier, there had been a bet (not uncommon) and some whiskey and some drunken decision making. Wes had been in love with Jamie, his straight friend, for years and the combination of Jamie and alcohol blew the lid off his restraint. What happens between them at camp causes Wes to feel guilty and he cuts Jamie out of his life afterward in shame and regret. Jamie is hurt and confused by Wes’s defection. It’s apparent that he doesn’t think what happened between them was anywhere near as big a deal as Wes did.  Jamie doesn’t know what he did wrong.

When Jamie and Wes meet again in Boston for the Frozen Four (on opposing college teams), they rekindle their friendship. Jamie is delighted and Wes is determined to not screw things up this time and keep things friends only. He has missed Jamie in his life and desperately wants him back, even if only as a friend. As far as Wes knows, Jamie is straight. In fact, as far as Jamie knows at that point, Jamie is straight.

After the championship Wes has some time and decides to coach at Elites – something Jamie has been doing all through college – and thus have one more golden summer with his best friend before the real world and the NHL become his priorities.

When the book starts, Jamie is in a FWB relationship with Holly. They enjoy sex and they are good friends. Jamie is worried Holly wants more and he tries to gently discourage this. He has never lied to her or been coy about his feelings on a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, but he is getting the feeling she’s keen anyway. After college and his final summer at Elites, he plans to move to Detroit where he has been signed with an NHL team. He has some ambivalence about the move and is worried about his chances of getting a start, especially given that he is a goalie. He, too, is looking forward to one last golden summer at Elites and he’s especially delighted when Wes arrives.

This is not a “gay for you” or an “out for you” book. What it is, is a “friends to lovers” story. Jamie realises he is bisexual during the course of the book. It does come as a bit of a surprise to him but he accepts it relatively quickly. Once he realises he is attracted to Wes, he does some “testing” via the internet and realises it’s not just Wes he’s attracted to on the other side of the gender spectrum. He also doesn’t lose his attraction to women by falling in love with Wes (although he finds his relationship with Wes completely satisfying and isn’t looking for any sex outside the relationship).

Jamie comes from a large, loving and progressive family, so he is confident that they would be fine with him coming out to them. I actually liked the low angst that Jamie had with this. When he and Wes first start exploring a physical relationship, they keep things quiet (they need to be discreet anyway – they’re coaches at a summer camp) and Jamie is at first unaware of the type of homophobic bullshit which bigoted people can spew. Even as he becomes aware, his concern isn’t so much for himself, but for the crap Wes has had to deal with already (including a lack of acceptance from Wes’s rich and aloof parents). Jamie wasn’t naive or terribly idealistic about things. I loved that he wasn’t all that fazed by the concept of being out as bisexual. I suppose it might seem that he had this revelation very quickly, but, for me, it fit with his character and his upbringing.

The guys have some fun conversations about the benefits of being gay – mostly I thought they were only half-serious. The subtext is deeper than their words. I still laughed when I read this:

“You buggin’?” Wes asks, nudging my foot under the table.

“No,” I say quickly. I’m not, either. “I don’t give a shit whether we set that guy’s gaydar off, or not.”

Wes actually winces.

“Wouldn’t blame you if you did. I mean, that dude is only jealous. But some people are assholes about it. I mean , the things you and I do every night are illegal in some places.”

“You’re really selling it to me then.”

His grin is wry. “There are benefits.”

“Yeah? Hit me. What’s good about going gay?” I nudge him back under the table.

“Well, dicks,” he says. “Obvs.”

“Obvs.”

Jamie and Wes are friends and they talk to one another. They enjoy each other’s company and have similar interests, even if Wes tends to be the more daredevil of the two. There is plenty of banter and conversation and it made me confident in their eventual HEA.  The way that HEA works out made sense in the context of the story. On the one hand it might be considered a little idealistic but on the other, it was entirely plausible.

What else? I liked Jamie’s friend Holly. She was a good friend to Jamie and even though she’s personally disappointed that he doesn’t want to pursue a relationship with her, she gives him good advice. I liked that they prioritised their friendship and that didn’t end just because they were no longer hooking up. Holly wasn’t treated as a convenient plot device and she wasn’t slut shamed. They had a mutually satisfying relationship which was based on agreed parameters and a close friendship and it was really nice to see.  (I’d definitely have no objection to seeing Holly get her own HEA one of these days. Hint Hint.)

The emotional and physical connection between Jamie and Wes jumped off the page. It’s relatively low-angst and rather charming. I recommend.

Grade: B+

BUY IT:
AMAZON     KOBO

 

2 comments on “Him by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy

  1. cleo

    I liked this one a lot, even though I have some reservations about it, that I’m not sure I can put into words. Parts felt very similar to The Understatement of the Year – I know the characters and plot were different but a couple times I felt like I’d read the same line in TUotY (I didn’t bother looking them up, so I don’t know if they were exactly the same or similar or just a trick of my memory).

    I loved the portrayal of Jamie’s sexuality and the treatment of bisexuality in general. I loved that they were friends first – I also loved their banter.

    I did think Jamie went from being angry at Wes for dumping him as a friend to lusting after him really quickly – almost too quickly for me to process. And then Wes’ turnaround at the end also came too fast for me – I guess it’s typical to have protags go from “we can’t ever be together” to “I will sacrifice anything to be with you” quickly – and sometimes I buy it and sometimes I don’t. Here, I believed Wes’ sincerity but I think the narrative moved too fast for me.

    Reply

  2. Kaetrin

    @cleo: I think I liked this one a little better than The Understatement of the Year but you’re right, there are some similarities in the storyline.

    Sarina Bowen, Elle Kennedy and Kristen Callihan are, in my opinion, are three of the best new adult romance writers going at the moment. Their styles work for me so well, it’s just a joy to read their work. I appreciated here that the angst factor was pretty low and that the coming out experience wasn’t horrible. Maybe there’s an aspect of fairy tale to some aspects of that latter but I think the first place we see those things is in fiction and then one day, maybe they become reality. And wouldn’t it be great? To have athletes from major pro sports coming out and it’s not that big a deal?

    Reply

%d bloggers like this: