Reviewed by Helyce
Ben was forced to grow up really fast when his parents died unexpectedly. Just 18, he suddenly became responsible for his younger sister, Zoe, who was only six at the time. He accepted this without question and raised his sister, making her his priority. He worked, bought a flat and against the odds, succeeded in keeping custody of Zoe and keeping their little family together.
Ben goes a little overboard once Zoe is off to college. Determined to make up for lost time, Ben hits the clubs, has lots of meaningless sex and succumbs to drugs. It’s the last that nearly does him in, as Ben also has diabetes and this adventure into his lost youth has done nothing but worsen his illness. When a young man Ben had a brief hook up with dies of a drug overdose and Ben’s wallet is found in his possession, Ben realizes he’s got to make a change when before its too late. Unfortunately, he’ll learn that it is too late.
The damage he did to his body now has Ben on a daily home dialysis regimen that has him on a strict diet. He is weak, easily tired and doesn’t often venture far from home. Now, Zoe is the one who checks up on him, making sure he has what he needs and is doing what he is supposed to do as he waits for a transplant. He works from home, receiving information he needs via delivery. And his deliveries are the highlight of Ben’s days!
Ollie is a young, cute, purple-haired, skater-punk looking kid who makes Ben’s deliveries. Ben has a huge crush on him, but his gaydar has never worked really well and he believes Ollie is straight not to mention way too young for him. But it doesn’t stop Ben from looking forward to his deliveries; in fact he orders stuff off the internet specifically from places that use the carrier Ollie works for. One day, Ollie delivers a package that’s been damaged and Ben knows that Ollie couldn’t help but see the contents-a porn DVD. Ben is embarrassed and pissed but when Ollie comments that it’s one of his favorites, Ben realizes he may have been reading Ollie all wrong after all.
The more I read Josephine Myles, the more I love her work. In Handle With Care, we meet Ben who is severely dependent on a home dialysis regime that is not pretty. He feels unattractive, lives in sweats and t-shirts and can do no more than walk from his room to the sofa in his living room without becoming completely exhausted. He rarely ventures out and relies on Zoe for quite a bit. What I loved about the author’s portrayal of Ben was that he was not a whiny, invalid type of character who tried to blame others for his lot in life. He knows that he is ill through no fault but his own and the decisions he made. He follows the strict regimen while he patiently waits for a possible donor match. Ollie is the one thing that he looks forward to. Ben watches for that shock of bright purple hair to appear on his porch and those few minutes of chatting are really the highlight of his day. Watching Ben flounder a bit as he fights with his conscience over his attraction to Ollie was entertaining as well. Once he realizes that he may have been reading Ollie wrong, however, all bets are off. I adored the character of Ollie as well. After his subtle flirting and hints are not quite received by Ben, he takes matters into his own hands by opening a package meant for Ben in the hopes of gaining some sort of insight to what made Ben tick. Ollie’s ‘kink’ was an interesting take on how the author handled Ben’s discomfort with his body and it really worked in helping Ben accept Ollie’s advances.
I also enjoyed the way the author explored the relationship between Ben and his sister Zoe. It had a “full circle” feel to it that really rounded out the storyline herein. For years, Ben and Zoe just had each other and they’d been through a lot. Ben’s many sacrifices are not lost on Zoe and the turn of tables with Zoe now having to care for her brother after years of it being the other way around provided an interesting look into their relationship. When Ollie and Ben begin spending more time together, Zoe has a huge adjustment to make as she realizes that Ben has room in his heart for more than just her.
Ms. Myles writes with much humor as well, which is always a plus for me and now that I’ve read a few of her books, I’m doing much better with some of the British humor she incorporates into her writing. It provided a good balance to the parts of the story that were more serious. After waiting what seems like ages for a transplant, one becomes available just as Ben and Ollie discover their mutual attraction to each other. Here, the author does a great job of still allowing the characters to go through their “getting to know you” stage even as Ollie takes on a caretaker type role following Ben’s surgery. It endeared Ollie even more to me that while it’s pointed out how young he is, he’s actually quite mature.
The story wraps up really nicely with Ben helping Ollie to realize one of his dreams as he recovers from surgery. A really nice ending to a lovely story.