All the Way Happy
Kit Coltrane’s All the Way Happy is an enemies-to-lovers story that spans twenty years. I liked the premise – two men who are meant to be together but whose paths diverged for various reasons finding each other again – but I came away from it thinking that what I’d read wasn’t really a romance, despite the eventual HEA.
The story begins when the two protagonists, Theo Beaumont and Jack Gardner, meet on their first day at Gwynns Academy, the prestigious Baltimore school they’re both attending, and take an instant dislike to each other. Theo comes from money and has been brought up to believe he’s better than everyone else and entitled to whatever he wants; Jack has a scholarship place and is, of course, someone Theo feels bound to look down on. When Jack makes it clear that he doesn’t give a shit who Theo is or where he comes from, Theo is furious – but afraid as well. It’s the first time he’s ever been spoken to like that, and the first time someone has seen past the polished veneer of money and expensive clothes.
Nineteen years later, Jack and Theo, now fathers themselves, meet again when they take their sons to Gwynns and help them get settled in, unprepared for the discovery that Jasper (Beaumont) and Will (Gardner) are to be roommates. They don’t do much other than acknowledge each other’s presence and that’s that – or not, because seeing each other again brings back a shedload of memories and feelings both of them have worked hard to forget. But a few weeks later, Jack sends Theo a rambly text asking if they can meet for coffee – because their sons are roommates – to exchange emergency details and be prepared for possibly awkward social situations in the future. Theo doesn’t reply – can’t reply – not straight away, but he can’t forget it either. Eventually he sends a terse, two word response agreeing to meet.
The story unfolds in alternating PoVs and three timelines (at school, four years later and present day). Each chapter contains a section of the current day story and a flashback to past events – the structure works well and I liked it, although I realise that flashbacks aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. The only issue I’ll point out as potentially problematic is that in the copy I read – which was an ARC – the jumps between the two timelines are only marked by section breaks; there are no timestamps or obvious differences in font (such as italics) and because not every chapter follows the same format (it’s not always ‘present’ followed by ‘past’), when I began a new chapter, sometimes it wasn’t immediately obvious which timeline I was in.
I liked quite a few things about the story – although as I said at the beginning, it’s not especially successful as a romance. It goes to some dark places – both Theo and Jack were physically abused by a parent – and Theo, in particular, is a mess who seems to be screaming silently the whole time. The author’s prose style is often lyrical and quite beautiful, and she writes angsty heartbreak really well. I liked Jack and Theo’s relationships with their children (Jack has three, Theo, one) and their exes and I enjoyed the pivotal section that fleshes out the hints as to what happened between Theo and Jack after school when they find each other in Ireland and have a passionate but short-lived affair. But I had to adjust my expectations as to the romance, because while there’s an HEA and the focus is on the two leads and their relationship, we never actually see them fall in love. It’s clear early on that their mutual dislike is born of an uneasy and unacknowledgable attraction, but there’s no real progression from that initial ‘I hate you but I fancy you’ to the love we’re asked to believe they feel by the time their affair ends. I felt as though I was expected to take their feelings for each other on trust. And their second chance romance is very poorly done. The thing I enjoy most about the trope is watching the protagonists fall in love all over again, but with the people they are now rather than echoes of who they were – but that doesn’t happen here. Jack and Theo spend hardly any time together in the present day sections of the story, there’s no real romance and there’s no indication as to how these men in their late thirties with divorces behind them, kids, and messy lives are going to make room for each other, how they’re going to adapt and grow together. The characters are not well fleshed-out so it’s hard for readers to become invested in what happens to them, and the little emotional conflict in the story is mainly due to Jack and Theo arguing with themselves about whether they want to be together.
As a side note: I’ve seen a number of reviews saying that this story has its origins in Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy fanfiction; Jack is poor, and has black hair and piercing green blue eyes, while Theo is posh, has platinum blond hair and a cruel, aristocratic mien. Never having read any HP fanfic, it’s unlikely I’d have spotted those similarities had I not had them pointed out to me – but it does make sense when I think about the lack of characterisation, conflict and relationship development, because if you’re writing fanfic, you’re writing about established characters readers are familiar with, whose relationships – or their foundations anyway – are already well understood.
All the Way Happy got off to a promising start and I did enjoy reading it, but the romance is lacklustre and needed more careful development. I liked the author’s style and would certainly read another book by her, but preferably something less derivative where she can develop her characters and their relationship more fully.
|Review Date:||December 30, 2022|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||Male/Male romance | Queer romance|
It’s a shame when authors forget the romance part of a contemporary romance!
Yes that’s it exactly! There’s a lot of good stuff here but it’s labelled a romance and published by a romance publisher – so naturally I expected romance! There were lots of strong emotions and they were very well written, but there was a lack of softer emotional connection between the leads.
It kind of sounds like contemp fiction that the publisher decided to market as a romance because it had romantic elements, but lacks the trope and the romantic focus a CR should have. Feels like marketing gone awry.
If it had been m/f. we might have had the “CR or WF” discussion – the thing is that the relationship is the driving force in the story, so maybe “fiction” wouldn’t be right either. It’s just severely under-developed, especially in the “now” sections of the story. It’s very frustrating, because it started well.
This doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy. I don’t mind timeline switches, per se, and I’ve read some books with them that were very well done, but they aren’t my favorite. The enemies-to-lovers trope doesn’t always appeal to me, either. It needs to have a solid underlying reason and the journey to understanding needs to be believably written. (Thinking of Valor and Doyle in Temporary Partner or Milo and Jasper in Out of Character.)
Oh, good Lord. I just read the excerpt and Jack even has messy hair and “knobby knees”.
Yep. Although that description didn’t stand out to me as anything other than your standard, gangly teenaged boy – knobbly knees is a very common descriptor here (I don’t know if it is eleswhere). I would never have equated it with anyone specific.