Yes, it’s another Hibbert. Look, I put a bunch on hold at the library a few months ago and they all came off the list at the same time, giving me 3 weeks to read them all before they go to the next person.
This is actually one of her more popular novels, which is probably the only reason I picked it up. I have weird, unsettled feelings about being a mostly straight woman reading a romance about two gay men written by another woman. I think there’s a fine line between Love is Love and fetishizing sexual orientation and I don’t really know (nor do I think I am the appropriate arbiter of) where these kinds of stories land.
Anyway, it’s Hibbert, so I read it anyway, and as you might expect, it is a lovely read. The focus of the story is less on sexuality and more on self acceptance, particularly as it relates to abuse and mental illness (Hibbert picks all the easy subjects, doesn’t she?).
Olu has recently (in a previous book starring his sister) been forced out of the closet. He’d always struggled with self esteem and depression, but this episode pushes him over the edge, until he feels like an alien incapable of relating to the rest of humanity (dude, I feel you). This traumatic event has also left him disconnected from his own body, and things he used to enjoy are literally nauseating now. He comes from immense wealth (the kind where parents aren’t involved in the parenting) and has never meaningfully bonded with anyone other than his sister, who he keeps at arm’s length to protect her from how much he thinks he sucks.
Griff has been tolerating the abuse of his small village (focused primarily, it seems, on his mother’s reputation as a witch and the manner of her death) his entire life. Since he’s known nothing different, he’s internalized their views of him being stupid and useless and unlovable. Other than his mother, now 10 years dead, the only person he’s really bonded with his his best friend, because she’s the only other bi person in the village. She too, is kept at an arm’s length, because Griff fears being a burden and thereby losing what few connections he has to humanity.
Olu and Griff work really well together. They both have to literally learn from scratch how intimacy works and how necessary vulnerability is to that deep a connection. They learn to respect themselves, not only because they are with someone they’ve grown to care for and respect, but also because they are independently working on their own well being. Too often narratives around personal recovery centre around a person who will fix you, so creating characters that are deliberately taking charge of their own life is sadly a breath of fresh air.
This book isn’t a standard Hibbert. While there is some joking around and a touch of slapstick humour, this book is pretty dark. There is some potentially triggering suicide ideation, discussion of suicide in a cruel manner (deliberately, and immediately put to a halt), depression, anxiety, self hate, and the self-destructive behaviour that comes from that. But it is dealt with gently, lovingly, and always with the reminder that however you are, you are not broken.