“I wondered why it was that when you were specifically not looking for anyone, not wanting someone in your life, they walked right up and let themselves in.”
In a word: Read the thing. Do you like slice of life? Do you like slice of life with babies? If so, this is definitely a book you should check out. The main point of the story is about Ellis and Zane overcoming obstacles on their road to becoming a family. This family includes Ellis’ infant son Harrison, who doesn’t actually do much (he’s a baby) but is in pretty much 95% of the scenes. Harrison is Ellis’ number one priority, and Ellis is a good father, so we see a lot of Harrison and a lot of the work that goes into taking care of him. Seriously, if you don’t like babies, or don’t find them entertaining in the slightest, you won’t like this. Although Ellis and Zane’s relationship is pretty sweet (if a bit fast for my tastes). Aside from Harrison and romance, Summer Son also has a bit of a dramatic plotline concerning Zane’s past and Ellis’ ex-husband. Ellis and Zane also have a pretty interesting cast of friends, though they never really get enough screen time for me to enjoy their presence. Mostly they just confused me. At the end of the day though, this is a story about two men sweetly romancing each other and coming together as a family (even if I do think that it went a bit too far too fast at times).
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains racist and islamophobic language, and attempted kidnapping.
The Couple: Ellis Broad is a recently divorced single father of an infant. Zane Hadlin is an American-born Egyptian art student. They’re brought together by their shared group of friends and instantly hit it off. Even though Ellis is too busy caring for his son to even think about bringing someone into his life, and Zane doesn’t date, they can’t help but be drawn to each other. The two of them actually got really close really quick, which I wasn’t totally on board with, but they were cute together so there’s that. You’d think the baby would throw a wrench in things, but Zane gets really attached to him, which does make sense since he works with children when he’s not in class (he does art therapy, or something similar). Ellis isn’t totally convinced about Zane at first, mostly because of his age. We don’t know how old Ellis is, but Zane is 22 and Ellis keeps commenting about how young he is so I’m assuming Ellis is probably in his thirties. But this changes the more Ellis and Zane spend time together and find that they really do want to be in each others’ lives. I have no real complaints overall with the romance, I enjoyed reading about Ellis and Zane and how they start building a lift together. One thing I do have to say is that I felt like their relationship moved really fast. From the time they first meet to the end where they get married takes place over six months. Shit gets serious real fast. But really, outside of Ellis’ ex-husband, the relationship is fairly drama free. And any possible drama that could have arisen was settled near instantly and off-screen.
The Kid: Ellis is the newly single father to baby boy Harrison. Being an infant, I think that Harrison is less of an actual character and more of a prop. Don’t get me wrong, he does have a personality (about as much personality as a baby in a book about an adult romance can have), but he doesn’t actually do much. What he represents is probably more important than who he is as a person, in terms of plot relevance. Ellis is recently divorced and has been a single father (or as good as, his ex is pretty much useless and unreliable with childcare) for only a few months. He’s still trying to get his feet under him and his world at the moment revolves around work and caring for Harrison. Caring for Harrison takes up a large part of the story. Before Ellis and Zane’s romance really gets going, and before Ellis’ ex-husband starts causing shit, a lot of time is taken up detailing how Ellis is handling life as a single parent. This stuff is pretty good, but it really is basic parenting stuff, and can be pretty boring if child-raising or slice of life stuff isn’t your thing.
The Ex: Ellis has been officially single again for only a short time. Frankly he’s better off because his ex-husband, Oliver Price, is a fucking asshole. We don’t actually see much of Oliver in the story, but what we do see of him is more than enough to make us hate him. The story starts after Ellis and Oliver are already divorced, so the only sense we get of the two of them together come from Ellis telling us about them. Based on that, Oliver certainly doesn’t come off as the perfect husband or anything, but there aren’t any hints of him turning into the complete asshole he ends up as. It starts with the fact that Oliver left Ellis seemingly out of the blue, only a few months after Harrison is born. And it just gets worse from there. Ellis and Oliver had Harrison via a surrogate, so he is biologically related to one of them. At first, they didn’t want to know whose child he was (they mixed their sperm so it would be up to chance), that completely changed when Oliver filed for divorce and then demanded a paternity test. Apparently, it was Oliver who was really driving the decision to have a child, but he only really wanted to raise a child that was biologically his. It’s probably lucky for Ellis that Harrison did turn out to be his child after all because Ellis says that if it were the other way around Oliver would’ve cut him completely out of the baby’s life (and I 100% believe him). Oliver gets visitation rights with Harrison, but mostly just blows them off. He does not want to be a father to that child, just because the child isn’t biologically his, which he knew might be a possibility going in. What a douche. And then there’s the whole custody thing, which just smacks of a child wanting a toy he ignored previously just because someone else is now interested in it (that someone else being Zane). We get a few different theories as to why Oliver does what he does, but there’s really no way to tell which of them, if any, are the right ones. It’s hard to get a real read on Oliver, but it’s definitely clear that he’s a pretty shit person and Ellis and Harrison are definitely better off without him in their lives.
The Drama: There are two parts to this, and they both somewhat tie into each other. And one of them is a better plot point than the other. The first thing is about Oliver being a complete and total asshole and suddenly fighting Ellis for full custody of a child that he’d had no real interest in for months. Oliver runs into Zane with Harrison at a store and freaks out about a ‘terrorist kid’ being around his son. Ellis, very rightfully, tells him to fuck off and then Oliver is suddenly very interested in Harrison’s wellbeing. Ellis’ first inkling that anything is truly wrong on that front is when Oliver tries to kidnap Harrison by not returning him to Ellis after his visitation is up. Then Oliver sues for full custody, claiming that Harrison isn’t safe with Ellis if Zane is going to be around. That’s the point where Zane’s backstory comes in. Zane now lives in New York, and he lived there when he was young, but serious stuff happened and the whole family moved away for a bit. Zane’s father and oldest brother, Sabri, were heavily involved in gang activity, and it ended up getting them killed. Zane was there as a witness to Sabri’s murder and it was his testimony that got the killer put in jail. In a very convenient turn of events (for Oliver) Sabri’s killer is released from jail at the same time the custody nonsense is going on. I say convenient because it’s never mentioned before this point and then it’s suddenly brought to a head at the worst possible time. It makes things tense for a while with the lawyers, but then it’s over almost just as fast. There wasn’t really much of a point to it, and it almost seems like Oliver and his lawyers could’ve orchestrated the whole thing, which doesn’t make any sense and most likely didn’t happen that way. The only real purpose of Zane’s past becoming a plot point was just to create unnecessary drama, and it didn’t really give itself the space to have an actual emotional impact.
The Side Characters: There are actually quite a bit of side characters in this book, though most of them don’t really have that much of a presence other than being extras. Ellis and Zane share a group of friends. The friends mentioned most often are Meg, Naema, Azriel, and Lupe. None of these people really have much personality beyond ‘snarky sidekick’ and while reading I felt like they were pretty interchangeable. Except maybe for Meg, I guess, since she was the one who showed up the most. They’re a pretty entertaining and diverse bunch, but not really interesting or memorable in the long-term. There are a few cameos from Ellis and Zane’s families. Though the only family member we get to know much at all is Ellis’ younger brother Leo and his partner Reid. Those two are cute together, even if their relationship backstory is a bit odd. It feels like there could be a sequel to this book about them, or maybe a prequel telling of how they got together.
The Sex: There’s nothing much to say about the sex scenes, really. There’s nothing that really stands out about them (except for the one with the glass dildo, I suppose), but they’re scenes between two men who love each other so they certainly aren’t bad. Although at one point I did feel that a lot of them were fairly unnecessary; I’d much rather further the plot than read drawn-out scenes of Ellis and Zane fucking, but whatever. One thing I do want to mention is something that happened their first time together that really annoyed me and took me out of the story. So Ellis is over at Zane’s apartment and they finally fall into bed together and Ellis starts giving Zane a blowjob. So far so expected. And then they start moving to do anal and suddenly the condom dilemma happens. First of all, the condoms that Zane have apparently won’t fit Ellis, which, whatever, I’m sure that happens. So they decide they’ll just go without because they’ve both been tested for STIs and they’re both clean. From that I figure that they actually planned to use condoms to protect themselves against catching anything, and not just because they make things less messy but that doesn’t make any sense because ELLIS LITERALLY JUST HAD ZANE’S DICK IN HIS MOUTH WITH NO CONDOM ANYWHERE IN SIGHT! Why? It’s like a badly done PSA of safe sex because STIs can be transmitted orally (these are both grown men, they should know this). They decide to forgo the condom anyway instead of, I don’t know, either not having penetrative sex or just letting Zane top. I doubt most people would actually care about the whole condom issue, but it really just ruined that scene for me.
The Writing: I wasn’t totally in love with the writing here. I seem to be having bad luck with first-person POV lately. Ellis’ voice didn’t really put me off too much, I guess, but I can’t say I liked it overly much. It didn’t help that a lot of the story read like Ellis was summarizing the events for us (even the part where Zane reveals his backstory is told to us through Ellis’ narration). It certainly wasn’t a bad read, though it did get a bit confusing or ridiculous in places. I felt that everything surrounding Zane’s backstory could’ve been done better, or just left out completely since the custody drama was really enough to keep driving things. Also the side characters popping in and out were pretty confusing because their presence made me feel like they were people I should’ve already known and we never get properly introduced to them. One thing I did notice while reading, and this isn’t me complaining so much as just pointing out something I noticed, is that it soon becomes pretty easy to tell that the author is British. Or at the very least, not American. Just based on some of the slang words used. It’s not completely obvious, but it’s enough for people who know what to look for can tell.
[Summer Son was published August 1, 2014, by Dreamspinner Press, it is available both in print and as an ebook]