“I am more than my scars.” – Andrew Davidson
Author: Jamie Fessenden
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 4 Stars
Blurb: In 1996, Jake Stewart is starting his third year at the University of New Hampshire. Even as a successful business major, he is absolutely miserable. Not only is Jake pursuing a field he hates when he’d rather study art, he is utterly terrified of what will happen if his father finds out he’s gay. When he finally gets up the courage to move into the creative arts dorm on campus, his new roommate, Danny, is openly gay—and there’s no denying the attraction between them.
Danny Sullivan has been out since high school, and he appears comfortable with his sexuality. But something happened in Danny’s past—something that gives him nightmares he refuses to talk about. Unknown to Jake, the way he mistreated his friend, Tom Langois, when Tom came out to him in high school, is mild compared to the way someone very much like Jake treated Danny.
It may be too late to fix the mess Jake made with Tom, but if Jake wants to be with Danny, he’s going to have to fix the mess made by another closeted jock he’s never even met.
Review: What an astounding difference in tone between Screwups and the last book I read and reviewed by Jamie Fessenden, Billy’s Bones. Mr. Fessenden’s range is amazing. Many authors write different types of stories. Many of them do it well. But I would have been hard pressed to believe that Screwups was written by the same author as Billy’s Bones. I mean this in the best possible way. Both books were great, but wow, so different.
Jamie Fessenden might not be one of the “big name” M/M authors that you see at the top of all the bestseller or readers’ choice lists, but he is a talent not to be underestimated. Mr. Fessenden’s range and his ability to excel in whatever sub-genre of M/M fiction his muse forces upon him predict a long and successful career as an author. I made a reference to Kathy Bates in Misery in a recent review, so I am hesitant to say that I am his number one fan, but I just may be.
From the exquisite cover to the character development to the plot and subplot lines, Screwups just worked for me. The title refers (I believe) to the residents of the dormitory at The University of New Hampshire where the artsy, creative types reside. Jake is being forced to hide his sexuality, and major in business in order for his father to pay for his education. His real passion is art, though. He loves to draw and is good at it. He wants to live in the creative arts dorm to be with people he feels more of a kinship with. His fellow business major students are as stifling as his classes are.
Did I mention that the book is set in 1996? It is so strange to read how different things were for young gay men then, and realize how far we, as a nation, have come in such a short time. It seems like it is taking forever to gain the equality guaranteed by the Constitution, but it is happening. *End rant*.
When Jake moves and meets Danny, his new roommate, the attraction can’t be denied. Danny is the first openly gay man Jake has spent any real time with. As their friendship grows ever so slowly into romance, it becomes clear that they both have a lot to overcome to be emotionally ready for a relationship. There were then, and still are, some major asshats trying desperately to keep a good gay man down. Not in the good way. Unfortunately for Jake, three of these men live in his very own home.
When Jake’s father found out that his high school friend was gay, Jake was too terrified that his father would find out that he was gay to not go along with his father’s harsh treatment and cruelty. Jake has not yet forgiven himself for how he treated his friend. Danny has nightmares about how he was treated in high school. He has been out and proud since high school. Someone he trusted did unspeakable things to him, and my heart broke when Mr. Fessenden wrote the words coming out of Danny’s mouth when he finally told Jake what had happened to him. It was a powerful and healing time for both Danny and Jake.
Jake’s older twin brothers (both hilariously named Robert) have beaten Jake down his whole life. With the blessing of their father, of course. Jake spends his holidays that year at Danny’s house, with Danny’s mom. Jake sees for the first time what real, unconditional love is. The goofy, funny but real-feeling cast of characters that surrounded Danny and his mom were a scream. Picturing Jake’s face during the Yule celebration was one of my favorite things about Screwups. My mind always creates a more vivid picture than any illustrator or movie maker would be able to.
I feel like this review has meandered all over the place, so I need to bring it all together. Screwups as a title doesn’t do this book justice. The characters lovingly committed to the page by Jamie aren’t screwups in my eyes. They are just kids trying to get it right against all odds. The real screwups are the bullies, family and otherwise. This is a great book. It is, in turns, funny, heartbreaking and heartwarming. There were parts that made me angry enough to want to reach into my Kindle and do some damage.
Another highly recommended success from Jamie Fessenden.