As I Am
The third in A.M. Arthur’s All Saints series follows newer characters Will Madden and Taz Zachary as they deal with their own respective PTSD issues and their desire for connection with one another. Like the other books in this series, As I Am deals quite heavily with mental, emotional and physical trauma, so I would definitely recommend approaching with caution. Without spoiling things, I do want to mention that this book contains triggers for rape, child abuse, drug abuse, and physical attacks, to name a few. The issues are handled rather bluntly, both by the author and the characters., and while I think this book is the most interesting in the series, none of them are fun, light reads. Interesting, but definitely not light.
The story starts with Will, nearly eighteen years old, and two years into therapy after being removed from his mother. While we don’t know exactly what happened, we are literally in the middle of his therapy session, so we definitely get a pretty good idea. We know he has been physically and sexually abused for at least two years prior to his removal from his family, and that he suffers, among other things, from PTSD. Fast forward 16 months, and Will is living in a halfway house, on disability due to the anxiety and panic attacks that come with his PTSD, and kinda stuck. He has become pretty active in online forums, though, and has made a friend, fellow PTSD-sufferer Taz.
After Will’s therapist recommends reaching out to more people platonically, Will reaches out to Taz, wanting to meet in person. At this point, Taz’s background in revealed – while in college, someone literally threw acid on him for making out with his boyfriend – because people are awful. Even after treatment and skin grafts, Taz has obvious scars on his face and neck, and his anxiety levels have basically turned him into an agoraphobe.
The thing is, though, that even though they suffer from similar issues, with the anxiety, etc., they are in completely different mental places. Will has (at least in part) dealt with his past, and is still dealing with it on a daily basis. He still manages to get out and about, work with a homeless shelter for LGBT kids, and constantly addresses his issues head on. Taz is nowhere near ready to do the same, which is fine, but Will spends a disturbing amount of time expecting Taz to just get out and go with him, and it just doesn’t work that way. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time angry with Will. For example, at one point, Will is ready to have sex, but Taz is just not there yet. Will gets pissed, thinking that Taz believes him to be dirty or spoiled or slutty or something, and storms off. No, Will, sometimes people aren’t ready to have sex, and that’s not your choice. Sorry, not sorry. Or even, later on, when one of our guys thanks the other for asking if what they are doing in bed is okay, saying how generous a lover they are – it is not generosity to want complete, vocal, and enthusiastic consent. It’s just not.
The other issue I need to mention is that while the mental issues are handled with care and respect, which is appreciated, this whole series takes tortured heroes to a new level. On top of that, the anxiety and associated issues are all caused by external forces, which makes them more of something that is done to, rather than something that just is. While the focus here is on Will and Taz, and their moving beyond their pasts, it’s a disturbing trend in the series, and I’m not completely comfortable with every single character having anxiety, depression, panic attacks, etc. as the result of abuse and assault.
That being said, I do like seeing characters that are not the ‘ideal’ – people who are scarred both inside and out, with actual legitimate issues to deal with, and a world that is not exactly forgiving of people who are different. Although the author tends to go a bit too far into unimportant details (I really don’t need to know all about Taz’s preferred sandwich toppings, or the name of the movie they decide to watch, especially since the second runs the risk of dating the story), I enjoy the overall style. I would just like to avoid some of the melodrama.