My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This story is also warmly recommended in audio format, narrated by Nick Russo.
Before I start this review, I need to confess a few things:
1. I have avoided Amy Lane, or at least most of her back list, due to the fact that she is known as the queen of angst. So picking up this book I was wary.
2. I don’t normally enjoy YA, firstly because I like my sex on page and plentiful – yes, yes, I am an old man-on-man loving pervert, I know! – and secondly because I just find HEAs between very young characters unrealistic and completely unbelievable – and I need a HEA like a junkie needs a fix.
In spite of this, I decided to pick up this book. This was due to the fact that I am a sentimental person and I love love love a good Christmas story, couple that with the fact that some of the proceeds from this book go to charity, well, how could I really resist?
And boy, am I glad I didn’t resist. Because this was wonderful! It was emotional, but not too angsty, it was sweet and cuddly and tugged at the heartstrings. It made me laugh and get teary-eyed. It wasn’t perfect no, but since I already know I will be re-reading this continually, I will have to grant it 5 stars anyway.
Rusty is a jock in his senior year in high school, he is a privileged white boy, from a high end neighbourhood with well-to-do parents and a prosperous future to look forward to, including Berkley pre-law after graduation. Although he could fit into every stereotype of dumb jock, he is sweet, polite, wholesome and slightly naïve. He is not the smartest of people, but he tries so hard and he has the biggest heart.
When Oliver enters his class in senior year, he is smitten instantly. Fascinated with the exotic Oliver. Oliver is everything Rusty is not. He is small, brown, from a working class Hispanic background, very secure in who he is – out and proud – and so very smart, that Rusty can hardly keep up.
The two start an unlikely friendship which slowly melts into more, without Rusty being aware of this fact. After graduation Berkley looms, a future Rusty knows he is not ready for, not smart enough for and really not something he wants. But college is a privilege, as he has realized after meeting Oliver, and he knows there is no way around it. So off to Berkley he must go, leaving Oliver behind.
The summer leading up to college holds several revelations for Rusty. One being the months he spends working construction for Olivers father. He finds something he enjoys, loves even, and something he is good at! The other being that on the eve of him leaving, Oliver kisses him.
Both of these revelations needs time to settle in Rusty before he can realize who he is and who he wants to be. But they are his defining moments, even if he doesn’t realize it himself at the time.
There is a host of side characters in this book: Oliver’s big loving latino family, Rusty’s conservative upper class parents, his rebellious younger sister, the housekeeper, Rusty’s college roommate Rex, college professors and guidance counselors, Rusty’s ex-girlfriend and high school friends. And all of them, in some way, shape or form end up being instrumental to pushing Rusty into the place he is meant to be.
This is more of a coming of age story than it is a Christmas story, but it does revolve around Oliver and Rusty’s first Christmas together, so in a way the holiday tag is earned, but it is not a story I would only re-read at Christmas time by any means.
Oliver and Rusty are wonderful together, they both have issues and insecurities and push each other at times, but behind it all there is love and a sense of heart and home. This sense of home was so strong that I actually believed in the happy ending between these very young boys, even before the epilogue gave me a glimpse into the future.
I will warmly recommend this story to anyone wanting a warm and emotional feel good story. But beware that you will feel the urge to hug your e-reader close after finishing.