Reviewed by Tori
When the shaking stopped
We were left in dust and flames
Buried our heads in shame
How did we let it come to this?
Topher Carlisle; young, gay, and fabulous (if he says so himself) has just scored a summer at his best friend’s parent’s home on Lake Michigan. A whole summer to work towards college without his dysfunctional family constant interference and judgemental comments. When he meets his best friend’s heavily closeted father, all his functioning brain cells go south and he finds himself involved in a clandestine affair that eventually leaves him homeless, friendless, and jobless. In a nutshell, Topher is a screw up. Just like his family always says.
When he meets Jace, a visiting artist, he finds a man who likes him for who he is. Jace doesn’t see a screw up and fights to get Topher to see himself as Jace sees him. But old ideas are hard to shake and when everything comes toppling down on Topher, Jace’s love may not be enough to pull Topher out from beneath the weight he’s buried under.
I admit I wasn’t gung ho to read this. A new adult M/M romance? Too many genres mixing it up was my first thought. Plus, I think that NA has a tendency to stereotype this age group and goes overboard on the angst and emo feelings. Imagine my surprise when I started reading and realised that regardless of my misgivings, Saugatuck Summer was an enjoyable story about a young man’s coming of age and learning to accept himself-flaws and all.
Told completely from Topher’s point of view, we see a flamboyant, enthusiastic, slightly narcissistic, twenty one year old man who is unknowingly at a cross road in his life. He’s not a likeable character at times but Gromley portrays him honestly. A product of an abusive family, Topher’s self esteem is at ground zero. We get interjections from his past that shows he both loves and hates his family; especially his mother. His mother is an alcoholic whose erratic behavior left an ineradicable impression on Topher. Sent to live with his aunt and uncle, he was taught that his homosexuality and behavior were a direct reflection on them and to never make waves. He is distrustful and questions everyone’s intentions. He cannot ask for help and views any offers with suspicion. Yet, despite his obviously less than stellar childhood, he is amazingly happy about life if not a little too self deprecating.
Gormley builds her story around such themes as prejudice, bigotry, ignorance, pride, and how the need for family approval can shape us. She doesn’t climb on a soap box and lecture the reader. Rather, she uses the people in Topher’s life to show us an emotional timeline of Topher’s state of mind during the story. From rock bottom to on top of the world, Topher goes through the gauntlet as he make some questionable decisions that sets forth a series of chaotic events. Heavily character driven, the people we encounter in this small lakeside town all affect Topher in some form or fashion. Some lift him up while others try to bring him down. Topher expects to fail at every avenue and his journey is filled with both joy and sorrow.
Though there is some cheating, I didn’t find myself as affected as I normally would. I felt the circumstances surrounding the affair went much deeper than the normal excuses that are often given. I do wish we could have gotten some explanations from the Braeden, though. He felt more like a plot device to push Topher onto a certain path rather than a real emotional connection in his life.
The romance between Jace and Topher is a mash up of sweet and erotic interludes. The bathhouse scene…goodness gracious. *fanning myself* Jace is delightful in his charm and sincerity. A virtual neverending font of dirty talk and touch feely hands, Jace confounds, titillates, and takes Topher on sexual journey he never thought possible. Older than Topher, Jace has been where Topher is at now and understands the emotional turmoil Topher is experiencing. Jace gives Topher the personal space he needs but also provides him with the unconditional support and affection he has craved all his life.
My only qualm is the story had too much of a Cinderella theme to it. Topher is always ‘saved’ by someone in some form or fashion and it lends an unrealistic air to the story overall. You never really get to see him stand on his own two feet for very long.
Overall I enjoyed, though the ending dragged on past the necessary cut off. It’s a sweet sexy fast read that addresses some of the misconceptions and problems many LBGT teens and young adults face.