Never a Hero by Marie Sexton

Why I read it:  I received an ARC from NetGalley.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Everyone deserves a hero.Owen Meade is desperately in need of a hero. Raised by a mother who made him ashamed of his stutter, his sexual orientation, and his congenitally amputated arm, Owen lives like a hermit in his Tucker Springs apartment. But then hunky veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves in downstairs. Nick is sexy and confident, and makes Owen comfortable with himself in a way nobody ever has. He also introduces Owen to his firecracker of a little sister, who was born with a similar congenital amputation but never let it stand in her way. When she signs the two of them up for piano lessons—and insists that they play together in a recital—Owen can’t find a way to say no. Especially since it gives him a good excuse to spend more time with Nick.Owen knows he’s falling hard for his neighbor, but every time he gets close, Nick inexplicably pulls away. Battling his mother’s scorn and Nick’s secrets, Owen soon realizes that instead of waiting for a hero, it’s time to be one—for himself and for Nick.
What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Let’s start with what I liked.  I thought (with the exception of Owen’s mother) that issues of disability were well handled in the novel.  Owen has a congenital amputation of his left arm below the elbow.  Because of how he was raised (more on that later) he is very sensitive about it and is basically a shut in.  After he meets Nick and also Nick’s sister June (who has a congenital amputation of her right arm), he is shown a new-to-him way of dealing with his disability and Nick’s direct speech opens Owen’s eyes as to why many people seem uncomfortable – not that they think he’s a freak but they’re not sure what to do and default to ignoring it rather than risk offence.    Through his relationship with Nick, Owen finds his world has opened up and his focus changes.  I’m no expert, but it seemed to me to that disability was handled pretty well in the book.

I only read Second Hand recently – a book where Nick was a secondary character.  In that book, Nick is presented as a pretty happy guy with a thriving vet practice.  At the start of this book, Nick is cheerful and direct and draws Owen out of his shell with steady and kind but inexorable force.  But Nick starts acting a bit strange as the men draw closer together and his personality seemed to shift.  He became moody, vague and coy and seemed very un-Nick-like.It is apparent early on that Nick is gay but even though he’s attracted to Owen, he doesn’t want to pursue a romance with him.  I did struggle a little with this part of the book because the cause of Nick’s reticence happened some 5 years ago and he clearly hadn’t dealt with it.  Owen’s reaction, when he finds out (I’m being mysterious because I think telling would be too spoiler-y) was disappointing.  I was kind of disappointed in both guys actually.  Yes it’s a serious issue but it’s not the end of the world either.  Still, Owen got over his douche-y-ness about it fairly quickly, so points for that.After the big reveal,  Nick is the vulnerable one and in a complete shift, Owen has to be the strong one who takes charge.  I guess in my head I wasn’t expecting that and it took me some time to adjust.The connection between Nick and Owen was strong and I liked the friendship between Nathan and Owen as well and I liked how Owen’s life opened up.

I did struggle with Owen’s eeeeeeevil mother.  She is evil with seven e’s.  She has no redeeming characteristics at all.  She is universally horrid to Owen.  I had a bit of a problem with her being so one-note.  There is something of an explanation late in the book which could have given some insight into why she was the way she was but really it ended up boiling down to that she was not a very nice person and the opportunities in the book to make her more nuanced were, unfortunately, not taken.  I felt uncomfortable because she was one of the main female characters (Owen’s mother is a force in his life) and she was portrayed so completely negatively.  I also didn’t think much of Owen’s dad and didn’t understand why he got a pass for allowing Owen to be so mistreated by his eeeeeeevil mother.  Owen’s dad, a professional man in a decent financial position, stuck around for years after Owen had left home to go to college etc but he stayed with his wife in misery and there was no good explanation for that in the book.    I got a bit peeved with Owen that he gave his dad a pass on not standing up for him more (or at all really) and the eeeeeeevil mother was the only one of the pair heaped with scorn.  Honestly, neither of them deserved a good parent award.

I read the book in basically one sitting.  I was compelled to keep going because I wanted to know what Nick’s big secret was that was keeping them apart.  Then I had to keep reading because I didn’t want to stop when Owen was being a bit of a douche (yes, important things had been kept from him but I thought his reaction was too extreme – he had a right to be angry and upset but to drop Nick like a hot potato and ignore him for weeks? Not so much in my opinion.  That’s just me.  Perhaps I listen to too much Savage Love.)   ETA: just ignore this. I had, I think, romanticised the effects of 

being HIV positive

and what a big deal that is. Because it is treatable I had somehow conflated that to not a big deal. My apologies. It is a big deal. Nick had no right to keep that information from Owen. None. It was totally NOT OKAY. What I thought when I read the book was just plain wrong on this issue.
Then when Owen stepped up, it was near the end of the book and I wanted to see what happened with Nick and eeeeeeevil mother.  So the book is certainly extremely readable.  I did like Nick and Owen together and I liked June and the Tucker Springs people as well.But, it wasn’t my favourite Marie Sexton book.  Because I have enjoyed her books so much in the past, I was a bit disappointed by this one.  There were some aspects I would have liked more nuance with (Owen’s parents being one) and others I would have liked more informational about (which to tell you would be spoiler-y, so I won’t).There was a lot of reference to heroes in the book and I did feel the imagery was a little overdone by the end.   I struggled a little with how Nick seemed to almost change character halfway through the book.  Having said that, it is pretty cool that Owen had some rescuing to do.
Grade: C-

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