“Eleven years ago, Seth ran from Jared, neither of them ready for this or for each other.“
In a word: Maybe read the thing. I did like this book when I first read it months ago, but I didn’t much enjoy reading it for a second time. Not that it’s a bad book or anything, it’s entertaining and I did enjoy it for the most part, but it’s not really something I’ll be reading again. It’s got a great premise: two men who were torn apart by misunderstandings finally coming together years later and sorting themselves out. The angst and pining were amazing (if that’s the kind of stuff you like to read) and the heartbreak was real and you hurt for these two boys that you just met. So it started out strong, but kinda started falling apart once it came time for the reunion. Personally, I thought things moved way too fast on that front, considering everything, and I didn’t really get invested in their romance as adults (I was more invested in the hinted romantic interest between two side characters). On top of that, I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing. There were typos, weird word choices, and clunky dialogue and narrative. It’s good for a quick read, but I found that it didn’t hold up on a second read-through.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains gun violence and injury, homophobia, brief non-con groping, and a character suffering a psychotic break.
The Couple: Our two mains are Seth Hall and Jared Stewart. They both grew up in the same small town but only became close friends in high school, despite running in two different social circles. Seth was openly gay and secretly in love with his best friend, while Jared was closeted bisexual and also secretly in love with his best friend. Seth as a teenager was a loner (I’m assuming, no friend other than Jared is ever mentioned) and very insecure, which made it easy to distrust Jared’s feelings for him (both platonic and romantic). Jared as a teenager was a jock with a large circle of friends and is described as a nice guy (not an actual Nice Guy, just a guy who also happens to be kind). They don’t seem to be much different as grown men. Seth is less of a loner, having come out of his shell some in college, but still doesn’t seem to have many people he hangs out with. He’s just been through a traumatic event so he’s still recovering (mentally) from that. He’s still very much in love with Jared, even though he’s still heartbroken and angry over what happened when they were teenagers. Jared is a lawyer now, and a confident and outgoing man. He was devastated over Seth leaving but it doesn’t seem to have affected him as much as it did Seth.
The Romance: I didn’t really like the romance in the book. The prologue was good. The half where they were teenagers, as told in Seth’s point of view, was both adorable and heartbreaking. I bought that here was a boy in love with his best friend and thought that there was a chance that his feelings might be returned, only to have the rug pulled out from under him. Looking back, it’s obvious to the reader that what Seth thinks happened isn’t entirely accurate, but we can also see how Seth would’ve believed everything he was being told. And, honestly, my heart broke for him. We don’t hear from teenage Jared, but we get his point of view in the second half of the prologue which takes place 11 years later with Seth in the hospital after being shot. It seems that Jared has carried a torch for Seth all these years and, after the shock of nearly losing him for good, has vowed to change things and finally go after the man he loves. All that was fine, I bought all that. The pining and angst in this are great, thumbs up. The problems (for me) started when the two men finally met each other for the first time in nearly 12 years (drugged-out hospital encounters notwithstanding). My main problem: I didn’t like Jared when he first showed up. He came off like kind of a smug prick when he first runs into Seth again, almost like it was a given that Seth would take him back. But even after everything, and even without explaining anything, the two of them do get together, almost immediately. And then the story becomes less about them reconnecting after so many years apart and more about a psychotic ex-girlfriend of Jared’s stalking Seth and threatening to kill him. Aside from Seth and Jared getting together to have sex and plan a birthday party for Seth’s son, there really isn’t much in depth resolution to their issues, or real romancing (I found). For as big a deal as it was to Seth what happened when they were teenagers, he seems to have gotten over it pretty quickly and easily.
The Teen Wolf Connection: Okay, so this one might be a bit weird. I have absolutely no evidence of this, but I got the feeling stuck in my head that this story was a Teen Wolf fanfiction that was re-written and published as an original novel. Again, NO EVIDENCE OF THIS, just something that occurred to me. JUST HEAR ME OUT THOUGH. One thing that immediately made me think of it was the writing. This reads like a mediocre fanfiction: the writing is clunky and immaturish with typos and grammatical errors, most dialogue is clumsy exposition dumping and over-explanatory, the plot is aimless and overdramatic, lots of sex, and the ‘villain’ reminded me of a lot of similar characters I’ve read in fanfiction before. But outside of that, what really cemented the fanfiction theory, and made it Teen Wolf fanfic in particular, is the character Skye O’Connor. Skye is a side character and doesn’t show up much, but over time we do get to hear more about him. He’s described as lithe with short brown hair and honey-amber eyes with ADHD who is hyperactive and babbles and was raised by his single-parent Sheriff father IS THIS NOT STILES STILINSKI? He co-owns the coffee shop across the street from Seth’s bakery with his best friend/pretty much brother Brandon (Scott McCall), who is completely besotted with his fiancée Holly (Allison Argent). Also it’s implied that Skye may have a crush on the older, grumpy, muscly, hazel-eyed police deputy Tyler Halen (Derek Hale). I have no idea where the main characters would fit into Teen Wolf canon and it’s entirely possible that the only reason I thought of all of this is because I read far too much Teen Wolf fanfiction and this could all just be a really huge coincidence, but it does make you think though, right? (Seriously though, if you’re a Teen Wolf fan and you read this you will most likely do a double take when Skye is introduced.)
The Side Characters: The majority of the focus of the story is on Seth and Jared and their relationship (and then the whole psycho ex-girlfriend trope happens), but there is also a cast of side characters that pop in and out of the story every so often. Some of them are more fleshed out and interesting than others. Seth’s parents show up every now and again, but their main role seems confined to babysitting the children and providing exposition. Seth has two children, Lucas and Ally, to whom he was originally just a sperm donor and godfather, but then gained custody of them after the death of their parents (two of Seth’s friends from college who are dead when the main story starts). The kids don’t do much, they’re just there to show up and act precious. Actually most of the time they’re pawned off on Seth’s parents so that Seth and Jared can be together. Jared has a sister named Izzy who’s getting married and needs Seth to do her wedding cake. Skye O’Connor, as I mentioned earlier, is one of the owners of the café across the street from Seth’s bakery and he shows up now and again for humour and to work with Seth on providing baked goods for the café. He runs the café with his best friend Brandon, whose only character trait is how head-over-heels he is for his fiancée Holly (who only gets a few sentences of screen time, if that). By far the most interesting side character is Tyler Halen; he has an interesting story (frankly I’d rather read a book about him and Skye). He was one of Jared’s friends and one of Seth’s bullies in high school. He was a complete shit in high school and one thing I like about this book is that he and Seth don’t become friends in the future (it’s not a requirement to be friends with everyone you went to school with, especially if they bullied you), although Tyler has bettered himself as an adult and is sorry about the way he treated Seth back in school. What we eventually learn about Tyler and his home life explains quite a bit about him as a person, and makes him one of the most interesting characters in the book. Also I ship him and Skye so hard.
The Villain: Yeah, we have one. Her name is Becky Halen, and she’s Tyler’s sister. She’s… not well in the head, and that’s putting it mildly. She’s apparently been in love with Jared since high school and she’s convinced herself that they are destined to be together. It doesn’t help matters that she and Jared actually dated for a while, but Jared’s heart ultimately belongs to Seth so Jared broke things off with Becky. It sends Becky off the deep end and she begins this campaign of stalking and threatening Seth and the kids in the hopes that it will send Jared back to her. She’s also homophobic, because of course she is. My problem with her is that she’s pretty stereotypical. She’s the psycho ex-girlfriend, going after Seth in the hopes that if he’s gone it’ll get Jared running back into her arms. She could’ve been as interesting as her brother, but instead she’s like a cartoon, or a soap opera villain. The plot is already over dramatic enough without her help. Although, if that’s something you’re into you might enjoy her character. I was mostly just annoyed whenever she showed up.
The Sex: Not really much to say about the sex in this book. It was all mostly meh. All the scenes are between Seth and Jared, and there are a fair few of them, and they’re all kind of boring. Or, standard, I guess. And overly long. I didn’t really get anything out of them, possibly because I wasn’t all that invested in the relationship by that point. There is one scene of note, where they have sex in Seth’s office in the bakery in the desk chair. Somehow they didn’t break the chair, which is what I spent most of that scene concerned about. Also there was some dirty talk that was… bad. And this isn’t part of the sex itself, but both men seemed to get stiff at the drop of a hat. It was weird. Or maybe that’s normal? I dunno. But it happened so often that I mostly just rolled my eyes whenever it happened. Luckily not all those erections led to sex because then the book would be even longer.
The Writing: Not a fan of the writing here. It reads like a mediocre fanfiction. There are quite a few typos and other errors (but I think this was mostly self-edited so, there’s that) and odd word choices. The narration is clunky and immature-sounding, also it glosses over some things and then recaps them after a time skip, which got annoying after a while. The dialogue is mostly horrible, most of it being information dumps, or at least sounding like they were constantly explaining things. And everyone sounded the same, speaking weirdly formally, no matter what they were talking about. The plot started out strong but then started falling apart once Seth and Jared were reunited as adults. And then there are some minor subplots that are mentioned a few times but ultimately go nowhere (like the thing about the children’s adoptive father’s parents wanting custody of the children for monetary gain). Also I was much more interested in what some of the side characters were getting up to, rather than what was going on with the two leads. The book is written in third person and the point of view switches between Seth and Jared, which wasn’t an issue as it was done well. Honestly the whole thing could’ve used more editing.
[the 2nd edition of Always Been You was published February 4, 2015 by the author, and is available both in print and as an ebook]