book reviews · m/m romance

Book Review: Kaje Harper’s “The Rebuilding Year” (2012)

13244400I did hesitate to read a book about not just one, but two “straight” men coming to terms with their same-sex attraction, but I took a chance with it and am so glad I did! It was a very enjoyable read. This author has a real talent for creating lovable characters that you just want to keep reading about forever- steady, sturdy, silent John and fiery, fervent Ryan.

The concept of a “rebuilding year” is surely familiar to a lot of readers: those times when it feels like you’re rebuilding your whole life from scratch when everything’s gone wrong. The first few chapters are very much in this dark, lonely place where our two main characters are settling into these new lives; they’ve established some sort of stability for themselves, but they’re far from happy. They seem to recognize that they’re both in this space, going through such big changes, and become sources of support for each other. That’s a lovely thing. In that sense there is a very sweet escapist element to this book, a chance to indulge in the idea that we could all find such sources of support, such caring people to brighten our lives.

I was beyond relieved that it didn’t take all that long for Ryan and John’s attraction to each other to surface and for them to act on it. I did worry that it could be stretched out for almost the whole book. But despite my worries about all the potential self-wallowing and self-disgust that can come along with an “oh no I’m gay” book, there was hardly any of that at all- almost none. Our main characters are surprised at their feelings, but not disgusted. The angst in the story doesn’t come from their same-sex attraction; their feelings- miraculously, mutually returned- are instead presented as a gift, something to take their lives in a new, unexpected, but positive direction.

My biggest frustration with this book was the way that the external subplot- the deaths on campus- kept butting in on the much more interesting parts of the story. I had to wonder if it was really necessary; couldn’t the story just be about Ryan and John’s new lives? In the end, however, the resolution of the deaths on campus plot did add to their character development, giving them both the opportunity for some personal revelations and growth, a chance to face some demons. If that felt a little too convenient, well…I still walked away from this book with a warm, happy, glow-y feel, which to me is a wonderful thing.

A few other minor quibbles: first is a formatting thing, in that there didn’t seem to be spaces or divisions between changes in POV or time. For a book that switches POV quite a lot, this was a little confusing. And one ridiculously tiny annoyance- I had such a hard time remembering whose name was whose! Ryan, John, and Mark are just too…similar? I don’t know, but I frequently found myself confusing father and teenage son. …awkward. Well, not a big deal of course, in the scheme of things! I loved reading this book, and I’m sure you will too!

{Summary from Amazon.com:}
A few excruciating minutes pinned in a burning building cost Ryan Ward his job as a firefighter, the easy camaraderie of his coworkers, his girlfriend, and damn near cost him his left leg. Giving up, though, isn’t an option. Compared to the alternative, choosing a new profession, going back to school, and renting a room from the college groundskeeper are simple.

Until he realizes he’s falling in love with his housemate, and things take a turn for the complicated.

John Barrett knows about loss. After moving twice to stay in touch with his kids, he could only watch as his ex-wife whisked them away to California. Offering Ryan a room seems better than rattling around the empty house, but as casual friendship moves to something more, and a firestorm of emotions ignites, the big old house feels like tight quarters.

It’s nothing they can’t learn to navigate, though. But when dead bodies start turning up on campus—and one of the guys is a suspect—their first taste of real love could go up in smoke.

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