A guest review by Sirius
Summary: A beautifully written romance where strong writing made me believe in a trope I usually do not find very believable.
Quiet and imaginative, Derek O’Reilly spends a lot of time watching a movie in his head. His fiancé Nathan, aka “Mr. Alpha,” wonders why Derek hasn’t taken any interest in their wedding planning. Aunt Fran—his spiritual guru—would like to know when her guilt-tripping nephew became some kind of kept boy. One evening, she drops Derek’s childhood journal on his lap, forcing him to remember the name he’s been trying to forget since he was eleven years old. Nicolai Lund.
Nick was Derek’s neighbor—and first love.
Weeks before Derek’s engagement party, a chance meeting with Nick catapults Derek into the past. Nick could flood Derek’s stale existence like a blond tidal wave, but Nick isn’t that sixteen-year-old rebel anymore. He’s a man hardened by invisible scars.
As Derek reads through his diary, Nick and Derek’s powerful relationship sways between past and present, sweeping over their emotional landscape, revealing what they were, still are, and might yet be to each other.
I was eyeing this book ever since I saw it being shortlisted as a Lambda finalist in the gay romance category. I do not believe of course that nomination for the award will make me more likely to enjoy the book, but I do believe that submission for the award means that the writing at least passes the initial muster of being strong enough so I always check out Lambda finalists, and if the plot sounds interesting will end purchasing at least few of those books. I ended up purchasing Split recently and decided to review it here.
The story worked for me almost perfectly, but I think it is first and foremost because of the strength of the writing – in the hands of lesser writer several things in this book could have made me cringe, so I can imagine that if you do not like the writing, you may not be able to like it either. First and foremost the book jumps between past and present and does it very often. Moreover I did not do calculations, but I would say that we spend more time in the past, when the main characters are eleven/twelve and fifteen/sixteen than in the present. It is possible that it is split 50/50, but as I said I did not do the math :). For me, while too many flashbacks in a book can became an annoyance and really fast. in this one it worked perfectly.
Second, we are spending the time in the past when the main character is eleven/twelve and his love interest is fifteen/sixteen, and main character is having really really intense thoughts about his love interest. I am not bothered by reading about an eleven twelve year olds intense thoughts about their crush (or if they think so – love), as- I think it is believable and realistic especially in this day and age, but if it bothers you, you should definitely stay away from this book. Nothing *happens* between them in the past and Derek does not fantasize about a full blown out sex scene, but even at that age he is very intense as a character. And yes, it does mean angst – for me it was very well written and well done, but I have a pretty high angst tolerance (not unlimited though :)).
And here we come to the point which could have really annoyed me in the hands of a lesser writer – you could see it from the blurb, yes, the boy whom Derek fancies to love at eleven turns out to be his one true love. Let me stress, he meets his one true love at *eleven*, not even when he is sixteen/seventeen. For me the eye rolling potential was all there. But the writer made me ignore that and just go with the flow. - It worked for me, it worked beautifully and I do not even know why it worked, except I want to say Bravo to the writer. I mean, thank goodness Derek did have relationships before he and Nick meet again, but it was pretty clear to me that he was not happy in those relationships. The only thing I am sure of is that I loved this story. Maybe I should think about it as modern fairy tale? But the characters in fairy tales are usually just sketched and in this one I thought that the characters were three dimensional and believable – at least the main ones were three dimensional to me.
I also always want to give a special thanks to the writer who writes great female characters in gay romance. Here I loved Aunt Francis, I thought she was wonderful and several other albeit very secondary female characters were great as well.
I think I have one niggle about the portrayal of Nick’s mother, she was no inexplicably evil or evil at all, but I did not think that at the end of the story I understood the reasons why she and Nick had problems in their relationship.
Highly recommended. Moreover, I loved the writing so much that I am likely to reread it in the future.