I wasn’t really planning to do reviews on my blog, but a post by Only Fragments about growing up queer at a time when there was little queer representation in media got me to thinking how important it is to continue to share the love and spread the word, even though the world looks much different today than it did when I was a kid.
It’s particularly gratifying to support indie writers, such as Jay Bell. His books have not only won awards, but his book Something Like Summer has even been made into a movie – which is something pretty impressive for an indie writer, especially one who writes about LGBT characters. I also feel a certain kinship with him, since he married a German and lived in Germany as an ex-pat for several years.
I’ve read the first three books of his Something Like … series so far: Something Like Summer, Something Like Winter, and Something Like Autumn, and have been enjoying it very much. Each book is written from the perspective of a different character, and the first three all follow the same core story. Although each book could probably stand alone, I strongly suggest reading them in order to get the full effect because the story gains depth and layers as you read it from differing viewpoints.
Romantic relationships are central to the books, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them romances, since the story goes beyond the romance part and follows the lives of the characters for several years as they grow up and settle into adult life. They fall in love (with more than one person), have friendships, work on careers, deal with bad relationships, interact with family, and handle grief and loss. The books are not perfect, but I was engaged enough with the characters to look past a couple of plot sins in the first book, and the writing gets better in the next books. I honestly would have ended the main story line a lot differently, but of course every writer is different, otherwise every story would turn out the same, and how boring would that be?
Jay Bell’s characters are real and sympathetic each in his own way, even the ones who were ethically challenged (at least to an old romantic like myself who has been around the block a few too many times). The main characters are gay and bisexual men, but I found many of the themes applicable to relationships in general, since they’re not just about hiding in the closet or coming out. I particularly enjoyed the character of Jace, who was featured as a romantic partner in the first two books and is the main character of the third, Something like Autumn. His character is one of the highlights of the series, even though he gets shortchanged in the broader story, because he’s one of those rare characters in romance fiction (and, unfortunately, in real life) who knows what it takes to make a relationship really work: the central understanding that the relationship isn’t all about him, but also the well-being and happiness of his partner.
Be forewarned – these books tend to the dramatic and are very emotional, so if you’re not into that kind of thing, they probably won’t be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you enjoy a good cry and emotionally engaging characters, they’re definitely worth a read. Jace’s book in particular reduced me to a puddle of miserable tears, even though I knew how his story ended from the previous books. If you’re the emotional type, and want to avoid having to make excuses about “allergies making your eyes hurt”, it’s better read it in private (not on the subway, like I did. So embarrassing.)