Sidecar

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Title: Sidecar
Author: Amy Lane
Cover Artist: Shobana Appavu
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Buy Link: Amazon
Genre: Contemporary M/M
Length: Novel (270 pages)
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by jeayci

Review Summary: A sweet, satisfying story that I think would make a great introduction to Amy Lane’s books for those who have been scared off by her Queen of Angst reputation, while adding yet another to the favorite list for her existing fans.

Blurb: The year is 1987. The boys wear pink Izod shirts, the girls wear big hair, everyone has a stash box, and AIDS is just an ugly rumor rumbling like a thunderstorm from the cities. A teenage runaway wanders the side of the road, a heartbeat away from despair, and is rescued by a long-haired angel on a Harley.

But that’s just the beginning of their story.

Josiah Daniels wanted peace and quiet and a simple life, and he had it until he rescued Casey from hunger, cold, and exhaustion. Then Joe’s life is anything but simple as he and his new charge navigate a world that is changing more rapidly than the people in it. Joe wants to raise Casey to a happy and productive adulthood, and he does. But even as an adult, Casey can’t conceive of a happy life without Joe. The trouble is getting Joe to accept that the boy he nurtured is suddenly the man who wants him.

Their relationship can either die or change with the world around them. As they make a home, negotiate the new rules of growing up, and swerve around the pitfalls of modern life, Casey learns that adulthood is more than sex, Joe learns that there is no compromise in happy ever after, and they’re both forced to realize that the one thing a man shouldn’t be is alone.

Review: This was characteristic Amy Lane, complete with bouts of simultaneous tears and laughter, and even more occasions of one or the other. The story was sweet and touching, neither too angsty nor too syrupy, though there were certainly moments of each. This was a wonderful warm, sweet glow of a story.

Joe was a wonderful guardian to Casey, determined he should have a childhood while he was still a child. Joe was also very clear that he had no sexual interest in children, and Casey was a child; in Joe’s mind anyway, if not in Casey’s. So although Casey lusted for Joe almost right away, there was never anything inappropriate. Their relationship was the epitome of “slow bloom” as it took a while for Joe to even recognize that Casey had grown up, let alone what his feelings for him meant.

I loved that Joe was a truly bisexual character, as bi-erasure is far too common in m/m, not to mention the “real” world. And because Joe was bi and wanted children, it made sense that he’d prefer to spend his life with a woman. Especially considering how much less opportunity there was back then for gay men to adopt children. So there was a believable and heart-wrenching tension as Joe had to choose whether to sacrifice a life with Casey or his dream of having children. The ultimate outcome was all the more satisfying for the razor edge we walked in getting to it.

On the subject of “back then,” I was a little surprised by Casey’s ignorance of the importance of condoms in 1988. How he learned about it was very, very well done, if you weren’t expecting him to know already. But we’re the same age and I already knew by January of 1988 (when I was given a condom by a concerned friend who was horrified I didn’t carry one in my wallet. He was cute, so I wasn’t about to confess I had no need of them yet! Had I been bolder, I might have asked if he wanted to use it with me. But I digress). I grew up in Berkeley rather than Bakersfield, so that might explain many things.

However, Casey watched even more television than I did, and I remember being bombarded with commercials like the guy pulling on his sock and saying “It’s as easy as that!” or words to that effect. AIDS was a Very Big Deal. Not that it’s not now, but it was…interesting…to come of sexual age just as the world learned that sex could kill, in a big way. It was the antithesis of what our parents experienced in their wild and crazy youth, with the advent of the birth control pill and Free Love. So that pulled me out of the story a bit, but it’s possible my crowd was precocious; it might not bother anyone who grew up outside of the San Francisco area or who is older or younger than I am. And aside from that one niggle, I thought the story depicted that time perfectly, complete with music and movie references that pulled me right back.

I also had another niggle, one that pertained to the writing style. I have such a tendency to use parentheses in my writing, you might wonder if I get paid by the paren (if only; I’d be seriously wealthy!). I’ve learned to watch for and evaluate each one: is this one necessary? Is there another way I might phrase that? What about this one? And even doing that, I still use too many. So I’m highly sensitized to their presence, and I’ve observed that I’m sometimes – but not always – bothered by an over-usage of them in Amy Lane’s books. I’ve wondered if that’s characteristic of her writing in all her books, but I only notice it in books that engage me less. Or do I get less engaged in books with more parens? I noticed many (too many) parentheses in this story, while also being utterly engaged in it, so the mystery continues.

In some ways, Joe reminded me of Deacon from Keeping Promise Rock, my absolute favorite Amy Lane book, one of my all-time favorite m/m books, and a favorite book in general. So for a book or character to remind me of KPR is a mixed blessing; chances are the comparison won’t be favorable, but it’s an honor to be compared at all. I think I’d felt shades of Deacon throughout Sidecar, but didn’t fully articulate it until Joe and Casey had a conversation so similar to one between Deacon and Crick, for a moment they were almost super-imposed over the book. Casey didn’t particularly remind me of Crick, but at that point I realized I could see a lot of Deacon in Joe. Maybe it just had to do with them both being the sort of men described in the dedication:

“This is for men like my husband and father who believe parenthood is a sacrament and good works bring us closer to the good in the universe, for whom gentleness is not weakness and flaws are forgivable, who struggle daily between what is good and what is easy and very nearly land on the right side of that every single time.”

I think the very nearly landing on the right side every time is much of what makes them such lovable characters. If they always landed on the side of right, they’d be perfect, unbelievable, and boring. But because they struggle and strive and very nearly land on the right side of that every single time, they’re the stuff of which heroes are made.

Despite my disclaimer about the probable outcome of any comparison, I wouldn’t say Sidecar suffers in comparison to KPR, because they’re such very different stories even if there are some underlying similarities. Despite the subject matter, this really is not angsty. It’s a deeply satisfying book that had enough tension and conflict to pull me in, make me care, make me laugh and cry, but it never felt over the top.

For those who already love Amy Lane, this will be another addition to the “favorites” collection. And for those who have been curious about her books but nervous about her Queen of Angst reputation, this book could be the perfect introduction. Highly recommended.

10 thoughts on “Sidecar

  1. amy lane

    Hey, Jeayci– thank you for the lovely review! :grin: I’m so glad you loved this one– I did too.

    A word about AIDS awareness in my neck of the woods… Mate and I were discussing this as I wrote the book, and I grilled my parents (both nurses) as well as my little sister (who was Casey’s age) about where our awareness about the disease was in this neck of the woods. The thing is, for myself and a lot of my peers (sheltered kids in suburban farmland) AIDS was for the people in the cities. For health care professionals it was a terrifying phantom– they weren’t allowed to screen for it, they were making up protocols as they went along, and the ease or difficulty of contagion was not well known. For most of us, real recognition that AIDS could happen to anyone didn’t happen until Magic Johnson came out w/HIV in 90/91. Casey, growing up in the suburbs when they were still using the old VD filmstrips that I had back in 1983 wouldn’t have been made AIDS personal. (My little sister had those same filmstrips– we used to sing the theme song to crack each other up– “Don’t give a dose to the one you love most!”) At least that’s the angle I was coming from as I wrote his character and considered that moment. ;-) But it was a hard thing to pin down–awareness of a thing is not ever directly related to the history of the thing– it’s one of the hardest, most ephemeral things to capture in a historical.

    Thank you again for the lovely review–I’m so pleased you loved this story–I really love how you treated my guys:-)

    1. jeayci Post author

      Hi Amy, thanks for your comment and I’m glad you liked my review! I loved your guys. I almost always do; there’s a reason you’re one of my favorite authors! :grin:

      And thanks for the background on what AIDS was like in your world at that time. I figured it must be realistic from your experience, and I debated saying anything about it in my review, because I realize that San Francisco is basically another planet. But I so vividly remember that January, 1988 conversation (I can even tell you the coffee shop we were sitting in! And the time of day… :lol: ) that it really did pull me out of the story.

      So much so that I got online and looked up things like the exact date the world learned about Magic Johnson. Because in my world, that was when we had proof that AIDS wasn’t just a “gay disease,” so take that all you ignorant haters! :yuck: :wallbash:

      So I felt like I had to say so, though I hope I made it clear enough that my experience may be a fairly limited one. :smile:

  2. Sirius

    Thank you for the lovely review. I agree that this one is less angsty than many of Amy Lane’s stories. So funny that Keeping Promise Rock is your favorite. I enjoyed it too, maybe because it was the first book by her (or second, not sure) I have ever read, but any other book of hers with this angst level was too much for me.

    1. jeayci Post author

      Funny, you just made me check to see if KPR was the first Amy Lane book I ever read, too. I hadn’t thought about it before, but it looks like it was. I wonder if that has anything to do with the extreme love I have for it? :biglove: There’s nothing like your first time, or something like that? :wink:

      Though I don’t think I’ve found any of her books to be too angsty for me. Maybe Chase in Shadow, but that wasn’t as much about the angst level as some issues that I think I saw will be addressed in the sequel. :???:

  3. Reggie

    Great Review, I look forward to reading this!

    I agree with both of you about Where were you when…. Sex education is different region by region.

    Anyway, looking forward to another well written read by Amy Lane.

    p.s. Really enjoyed Country Mouse! Fun read with the differences between the two authors illustrated gently. :bravo:

    1. jeayci Post author

      Thanks, I think you’ll love it! :grin:

      And yeah, sex education is extremely variable. I mean, just think about all those poor kids who learn that you can’t get pregnant the first time! Or if she’s wearing high heels. Or that Saran Wrap works as a makeshift condom. :shock: :eek:

      1. Reggie

        . Or that Saran Wrap works as a makeshift condom. :???:

        I am speechless– :2thumbs:

        Oh well, we better not start the “condom use in fiction” debate…. Wave might ban us from the Friday Guys!! :help:

        :lol:

        1. jeayci Post author

          Uh oh, we wouldn’t want that! :escape: But just think how entertaining such a discussion could be… :evilgrin:

  4. mrb

    I finished reading SideCar last night and enjoyed it very much.

    I saw a news piece about the home HIV test last week (think it was on our local Pbs channel) and it mentioned that there are about 50000 new infections every year in the US.
    If Trojan can show tons of vibrator ads and KY their KY Intense ads on TV every day …. why not come up with an effective sex education ad.

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