Reviewed by Tori
Brett Bridgeworth, a freshman at UCLA and excited to start his first year of college, finds himself becoming involved with his math tutor who appeals to the lost, lonely boy looking for love inside of him. When the relationship turns abusive, Brett breaks it off and seeks sanctuary with another student, Sam Hawthorne.
Sam likes Brett a lot but has kept his attraction to him a secret as he isn’t sure if the attraction is reciprocated. When Brett and Sam decide to take their friendship another level, Brett’’s ex boyfriend’s campaign to win him back changes into something far more sinister.
Painful Lessons is a fast moving, relatively uncomplicated coming of age story about a young man, Brett, whose first year at college leaves him feeling even more alone in the world. This emotionally driven story, told entirely from the main protagonist’s point of view. The foreshadowing is strong, adding to the anticipation and suspense vibe that flavors the storyline. We know what is coming, all that remains is to see how Brett will deal with it.
Brett is an only child whose mother passed away unexpectedly, leaving him alone with a workaholic father who’s emotionally closed off. Brett’s need for love and acceptance inevitably is found through sex. The physical connection he receives from sex gives him the emotional connection he craves. The author does a good job of getting deep inside an 18 year old’s head; giving voice to all his feelings of insecurity, unworthiness, and loneliness while slowly interjecting parts of his background to show us why he feels the way he does way and how it contributes to the situation he finds himself in. A nice balance between the angst and humor in the narrative helps to keep the story from becoming to dark.
I admit it was hard for me to really like Brett. He is essentially a brat which is often a turnoff for me but I felt that was more due to his youth than anything else. He is young, immature, and whiny as most are at this age. His thoughts and emotions ping pong from extreme happiness, to overwhelming despair, to irrational anger at the drop of a hat. He questions everything done and said to him, looking for hidden agendas because he has a hard time accepting that he is a likable, attractive person. This of course makes him a prime target for an unscrupulous math tutor, Jeremy, who uses Brett’s vulnerability against him.
Brett has two men demanding his attention-Sam and Jeremy. The author presents these two men in the classic good vs evil senario-each vying for the prize which is Brett. Sam is a sweet, good-natured, attractive young man whose friendship and concern over Brett is like a balm to his soul. Sam asks for nothing from Brett besides his friendship. Jeremy is described as mysterious, dark, and sexy. He manipulates Brett by appealing to his insecurities and uses sex to control him. The romance and sexual scenes between the two are worlds apart; further showcasing the differences between these two men.
The story also blends in a small subplot involving Brett’s dad who is dealing with his own issues and slowly learning how to be a parent. It starts off strong but falters when Wynne chooses to keep it low key and push it along at a faster pace than I thought necessary. It ends on a good note but while the intent was strong, the development was weak. And that was my main issues with this story. At times the storyline rushed, choosing to skip over some pivotal points that I wished the author would have stopped to further develop, while at others it dragged and drew out certain scenes that were self-explanatory.
The ending is a climactic scene that wraps up the story with a bit more pomp and circumstance than I felt was necessary. All in all, Painful Lessons is an easy to read new adult coming of age story that doesn’t demand a huge commitment from the reader. The immaturity of the main character and the uneven consistently of the story flow kept me from fully engaging but not enough to turn me off from finishing.
Prism Book Alliance