This book is nominated for a 2016 RITA award.
I enjoyed reading the story of Jamie Canning and Ryan Wesley – which is continued in the second of the series, US. However, there were a couple of issues for me to overcome; firstly, the major themes of Ice Hockey and the American college system. Being English, ice hockey is a bit of a mystery to me. Although it is played over here it is not that well known. I only experienced ice hockey as a young ice dancer, waiting to get on the rink for my practice. Additionally, I get confused with ages and transfers etc., regarding college and sports in the US. This however, is a personal or nationality issue and didn’t stop me enjoying the story. I just skipped over a few sections other readers, who know the game, might enjoy very much.
The story is told alternately from Wes and Jamie’s points of view and begins with Wes (Ryan Wesley). We learn that Wes is a rather promiscuous, closeted gay hockey player, although at least one of his college teammates knows he is gay. Although technically ‘out’ to his family, that family consists of a rather awful wealthy father, whom Wes dislikes intensely, who dismisses being gay as a ‘phase’ and a mother who is little more than a shadow who only ever agrees with her husband. We also find out that Jamie Canning is an admired hockey goalie who plays for another college team, and is the erstwhile best friend of Wes.
At the beginning of the book the two men are due to meet for a game, and so we learn a little of the background to their friendship. Whilst they were children, they used to meet every summer at a hockey camp called Elites, where they were roommates and became best friends. During their last summer at the camp as young teens, a bet between them ended up with a sexual act, which cause a separation between them. Wes knew he was gay and adored his best friend – who as far as he knew was straight. We learn that he felt he had coerced Jamie in some way and the shame of this made him cut all contact for years.
As a plot device to separate the two main protagonists, this is a good one. I doubt they were the first, or last, friends to experiment with each other sexually, and handling the situation badly goes along with the territory of being a young teen. When they meet up again as adults, the sexual tension between them is very well written and quite erotic. Jamie has a girlfriend, Holly, who is also well written as a character and thankfully, the author avoids the awful bitter female trope, when it is revealed that Jamie is Bi. There are relationship and career conflicts to endure and resolve for Wes and Jamie, and the path through these is an enjoyable romantic read with excellent secondary characters. I particularly liked Jamie’s family as an exaggerated juxtaposition to Wes’ which works well.
So far, nothing but praise for Him – so why only a ‘B’ rating? This is by no means the worst depiction of a bisexual character that I have read, yet there is still far too much emphasis on the suddenness of being very aware of men because Jamie realises his feelings for his friend. The scene where he is in bed with his girlfriend right at the beginning already plants the seed in the reader’s mind that girls aren’t quite doing it for him emotionally, and yet we are meant to believe he has never even looked at another male. This slips dangerously into ‘gay for you’ territory. There are few believable occasions where a male in his mid-twenties is shocked or confused to find himself attracted to a man. Furthermore, after Jamie accepts his feelings for Wes, he suddenly starts staring at male arses and appreciating physiques and checking out gay porn. Being bi isn’t about suddenly developing ‘gay eyes’ in your twenties – the attraction is always there, even if you never romantically fall for someone of the same sex.
My other negative feeling comes from the preponderance of descriptions about the acres of golden skin, ridged abdomens, rangy muscles and perfect muscled thighs; and of course the male genitalia in proportion to the huge muscles etc. The few hockey players I have met were as pale as I was because they spent all of their time on the ice. They also tended to have broken noses, split lips and Neanderthal brows. Romance is a fantasy, but it is a dangerous fantasy if it only depicts society’s ideas of masculinity and perfection as allowable in a gay romance. I have become a little tired of all this perfection, and enjoy interesting ordinary characters having extraordinary romances.
Him is enjoyable if you just want a musclebound contemporary romance with some genuinely lovely touches and well written secondary characters. However, this book is one of only a few LGBTQ books to be chosen as a RITA finalist in 2016, and as such should represent the best in contemporary queer romance. For me, it fails in that.