Reviewed by Helyce
It is no secret that Heidi Cullinan is one of my favorite authors. So, I’m just going to get it out of my system right now and say, I freaking loved this book! It was the perfect combination of everything I look for in a story. There is humor, strong emotion, and while I literally lost my breath when she did what she did at one point in the story, she kindly answered my Tweet and comforted me so that I could go on. And if you are a fan of the TV show GLEE, well, the only thing missing from this book was that it didn’t come with a soundtrack.
Aaron and Giles meet under some odd circumstances when they both find themselves hiding in the same laundry room at an end of summer farewell party in their hometown. Aaron had gone to the party with strong reservations, but because it was his birthday he thought he should do some sort of celebrating. Though hiding in a laundry room getting drunk by himself was so not what he had in mind. When Giles blusters in, clearly on the run, he and Aaron talk a bit and decide to head on out on their own. They get something to eat and end up making out by the lake, but when Giles drops Aaron off at home they make no plans to reconnect and the summer finishes with no further contact.
Unbeknownst to Giles, his and Aaron’s little rendezvous by the lake opened Aaron’s eyes in such a way that he makes some huge decisions about his personal life and where he planned to go to college. Though he’s wanted to contact Giles, he just can’t make himself do it and opts for the element of surprise. Unfortunately, when Giles sees Aaron on campus at St. Timothy’s orientation, he’s furious and Aaron realizes he may have made the biggest mistake of his life.
When my son was in 3rd grade, he had one of the best teachers a mom could ask for. He never cared for reading or writing, but for this one year, with this teacher, he read and he wrote well and often, because of and for her. She would encourage the students to write descriptively saying that they should use “luscious language”. That is the word that for me best describes this story because the words are luscious even when they are hurtful and ugly.
I loved Aaron! Confused and misguided he leaps off the proverbial cliff when he meets Giles and chooses St. Timothy’s College in the hopes of getting to know Giles better. But Giles does not want to have anything to do with Aaron. He has so many misconceptions about Aaron’s sudden appearance (all wrong) and it’s a long time before these two even have a conversation. Even then it doesn’t really go well. Though I couldn’t wait for these two to kiss and makeup, I loved that the author had them go through everything she did before they got together. I loved that Aaron found his place at St. Timothy’s first, made some friends, and was experiencing success in his music and doing something totally for himself before falling into a relationship. Aaron needed that; as hurtful as it was that Giles didn’t immediately respond, Aaron needed to just be Aaron first.
I loved Giles as well. Ms. Cullinan tackles the serious subject of abuse in the character of Giles. Beaten repeatedly in middle school and high school for being openly gay, you’d think a young man who has suffered through that would just crawl into a hole and hide. Not Giles, because his parents fought for and supported him and his rights so that he didn’t have to find that hole. Giles’s parents play hugely important roles in this story. Loved them so much.
Once Aaron and Giles find their way back to each other, secondary characters play important roles throughout. And this is where the story totally blew me away. Against the backdrop of college life, the music program there and regular classes, we are pulled into the lives of these students. Young, hopeful, excited-the challenges each of them face are dealt with in very realistic ways.
It’s difficult not to elaborate on everything that happens in this book or detail how important each character was to the story. Everyone plays such an important role and their stories are interwoven in a way that you will want the next book immediately. I do have to mention Walter Lucas who we met in book one, Love Lessons. He plays a pivotal role in here with Aaron. It’s so huge I’m struggling not to cry right now as I write this. At one point in the story Aaron experiences a betrayal of such extreme proportion I felt broken; but Walter is there for him. Walter sums it up here:
“Sometimes we need a place to be completely safe, somewhere boring that isn’t about sex or adventure or wild hairs. I am that place for you. As long as you want it, for ten minutes or ten hours or ten thousand years: I am your safe place. No matter what happens, no matter who leaves you or hurts you. I am your safe place.”
With the love and support of key people, Aaron and Giles move forward and succeed beautifully. By the end of this story, you will wish you were a student at St. Timothy’s College. You will wish you were in chorus or played an instrument in the orchestra. I know I did and I cannot wait for the next book in this series.