Something Like Summer by Jay Bell

Rating: 6/10 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 
Title: Something Like Summer
Author: Jay Bell
Genre: Coming of age, gay romance, contemporary
URL: Smashwords
Price: US$2.99
Other Information/warnings: homophobia, explicit sexual situations
Summary [from the publisher]:

Love, like everything in the universe, cannot be destroyed. But over time it can change.
The hot Texas nights were lonely for Ben before his heart began beating to the rhythm of two words; Tim Wyman. By all appearances, Tim had the perfect body and ideal life, but when a not-so-accidental collision brings them together, Ben discovers that the truth is rarely so simple. If winning Tim’s heart was an impossible quest, keeping it would prove even harder as family, society, and emotion threaten to tear them apart.

My review: This is a gay coming of age story, and a pretty convincing one. It shows a range of young gay experiences – and some older people’s too – from struggling to stay closeted, to coming out and being out, while looking for love and acceptance, over twelve years in Ben Bentley’s life. Ben, Tim, Jace and supporting characters, gay and straight, male and female are credible, even when not always appealing. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t flesh out Jace in the story as much as he could have, probably because his interest is in other characters. Allison, Ben’s standard straight girl friend is realistic and likeable without being ubersaintly or self-sacrificing (as too many of these kinds of characters end up being), though her story takes a back seat to the main action – sad, because one could have written a novel about her alone, and this story, told from her perspective, might have been a better book.

Line editing and presentation are professional, a very welcome suprise in a self-published book. Standard of writing is mostly decent, with some amateurish touches here and there (like Ben studying himself in the mirror to give us his appearance), but this is a cut well above most self-published books, and certainly above many books in this genre. The pace is rapid – almost too rapid, as a main flaw with the story is the failure to allow the reader to fully enjoy or appreciate the emotional significance of certain life changing events to  the central personalities. This swift passing over, along with an over-reliance on telling not showing throughout, means this novel is less satisfying than it could be, and should be, given the intensity of the subject matter and plot.

The story held my interest right through to the end, but I was dissatisfied with the ending. There are only a few ways to resolve a triangular love story, and I have to say the author chose not only the method I most dislike, but the one which did the least justice to the characters. (I’m trying not to spoil the story, that’s why I’m not going into specifics.) The way Steve Kluger did it in Almost like Being in Love was much more gracious.

The growth of Ben from inexperienced teen to older and wiser adult felt real, as did Tim’s transition from spoiled but affection-starved closeted rich kid to spoiled but affection-starved out gay man. I really liked Jace and the way he handled Ben and his emotional turmoils. His impact on Ben and his maturity was delightful to watch. What was bewildering was Ben’s continued attraction to Tim, a man who never grew up enough even to look after a dog properly, who is prepared to lie and cheat and tempt to get what he wants regardless of how much pain he causes in the process. Despite the character’s internal protestions, Ben’s interest in Tim seemed to be mainly sexual, from teenage years to adulthood. Not a lot to build a future on, in my opinion.

However, this is not a bad book, just one which didn’t live up to its potential as much as I would have liked (and I am not the intended audience, most likely.) It will certainly appeal to many readers, particular young gay men who will identify intensely with the issues of homophobia, closeting, fidelity, monogamy and self-awareness. They may also be closer to the actual situation of growing up gay in Texas, with all the ‘pleasures’ of highschool in modern America. I’m both too old and too foreign to really understand what that’s like, though Mr Bell does an excellent job in showing the reality.

There’s much to like in Something like Summer, and it’s an enjoyable read regardless of what faults I personally felt it had. It’s excellent value for money, and ridiculously cheap for a novel of this length and quality. Worth taking a risk on, if this kind of book appeals, and I will look for other contemporaries by the same author. He can only get better.