Sometimes the best thing you can get for Christmas is knowing what you really want. Rusty Baker is a blond, rich, entitled football player in a high school full of them - just the type of oblivious jock all the bullied kids hate. And he might have stayed that way except he develops a friendship with out-and-proud Oliver Campbell from the wrong side of the tracks. Rusty thinks the friendship is just pity - Oliver is very bright, and Rusty is very not - but then Oliver kisses him good-bye when Rusty leaves for college, and Rusty is forced to rethink everything he knows about himself. But even Rusty's newfound awareness can't help him survive a semester at Berkeley. He returns home for Thanksgiving break clinging to the one thing he knows to be true: Oliver Campbell is the best thing that's ever happened to him. Rusty's parents disagree, and Rusty finds himself homeless for the holidays. Oliver may not have much money, but he's got something Rusty has never known: true family. With their help and Oliver's love, Rusty comes to realize that he may have failed college, but he'll pass real life with flying rainbow colors.
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The story is sweet, and, yes, kitschy, but also funny and warm. I've particularly enjoyed that the white, cis male protagonist learns to understand his privilege, and tries his best to counteract it. The love interest isn't white, nor rich, which absolutely helps the story, and this particular aspect of it.
It's a first person point of view story - of which I'm not usually a fan - but I didn't even notice until I was a couple of minutes into the first chapter. That only goes to show that I was gripped by the story right from the start.
There are clichés in this story, like in most fiction, but overall I'm pleased that the early "gay man misogyny" that often accompanies gay romance novels, slowly fades as Rusty learns more about his own (male) privilege.
I don't even mind the expressions Rusty uses for his penis half the time (instead of just calling it what it is :) ), because, as I said, it's first person POV, and Rusty is a teenager/young adult who's not all that emotionally mature. Of course he'd use funny expressions to refer to his dick. Not sure why it was important for him to have an above average cock, but I guess that's just for fun, eh? :)
My favourite character has got to be Rex, even though I strongly object to the way he basically sexually harassed Rusty after they've met. I wished he'd been called out on that behaviour in a more direct way that explains why it's ALWAYS inappropriate to willfully expose someone to sexual acts (esepcially when trying to coerce them into joining in). This is only made worse when he keeps doing it after Rusty specifically asks to be warned, and then TAKES AWAY the very thing that Rusty asked to use to be warned before entering the room that there might be things going on inside that he doesn't want to see. So, yeah, this level of manipulation really should've been called out more for what it is: Sexual harrassment.
However, I still love Rex because apart from that enormous lapse in judgement, his heart's in the right place. (My favourite part has got to be when he storms off to drag the professor out of the class he's teaching to make him apologise to Rusty.) It's nice that he found a boyfriend after a couple of years. I hope it's the professor's nephew. I also kind of wished that he'd end up in a poly relationship. It would suit him, I think, AND it would've given the story some more diversity/representation.
Finally, the reader. Nick J. Russo does an excellent job. It's thanks to him that I didn't even realise I was listening to first person pov until I was a few minutes into the story. He did such a good job at portraying Rusty, I'm sure I'll listen to this book again some time. I'm particularly pleased with how well he speaks female characters. Some (male) readers do over-the-top voices, or end up doing completely weird voices because apparently it's difficult for them to imagine what a woman sounds like. *eyeroll*
Not so Russo. He did incredibly well, it was a joy to listen to him narrate this story. His reading is one of the reasons why there are now several more audiobooks by Amy Lane, read by him, on my list :)
Overall I've greatly enjoyed listening to this and being part of Rusty's life for a couple of hours. I'm looking forward to discovering more of Lane's books, and Russo's readings!