Title: Into the Blue
Author: Pene Henson
Publisher: Interlude Press
Length: 236 Pages
Category: New Adult, Contemporary
At a Glance: There are so many beautiful, beautiful passages in this book, you guys. I have many highlights of gorgeous, poetic words. Do yourselves a favor, and add this one to your summer reading list!
Reviewed By: Jules
Blurb: Tai Talagi and Ollie Birkstrom have been inseparable since they met as kids surfing the North Shore of Oahu. Now they live with their best friends and Ollie’s kid brother in a pulled-together family, all of them piled into a run-down beach house. They share cooking, bills, and the saltwater running in their veins.
Tai’s spent years shutting down any feelings for Ollie. They’re friends. Their family depends on them. But with Ollie off on his first world tour and his dreams of a pro surfing career finally within reach, their steady world shifts. Is the relationship worth risking their friendship, their family, their dreams, for a chance at something terrifying and beautiful and altogether new?
Review: First, huge congratulations to Pene Henson for her Lambda Literary Award win in the Gay Romance category. A few of my favorite authors and other books that I loved last year were also finalists in this category, so there was some amazing competition! But, after reading Into the Blue, I can absolutely see why it was picked. It’s an incredibly gorgeous book, and so deserving of the award. Tai and Ollie are going to stick with me for a long time.
Friends-to-lovers is one of my absolute favorite tropes, so I’m always thrilled when I find one that’s done as well as this one was. From the beginning of the story, it’s obvious how deep Tai and Ollie’s friendship runs. Meeting as kids and quickly bonding over their shared love of surfing, they soon became an irreplaceable part of each other’s lives. Now in their early twenties, they live on the beach with Ollie’s little brother Jaime, Sunny, who they also grew up with, and Hannah. They are a ‘stitched together little family’. The guys might still surf every day, but the responsibility of taking care of Jaime, and their commitment to the girls, has so far kept them from their dream of chasing the best surf breaks in the world together. That is, until Ollie makes it into the Pipe Masters surfing competition, and gets another shot at fulfilling his dream of becoming a pro surfer. A dream he can only see coming true if Tai is with him.
Tai and Ollie are both such wonderful characters. I loved Tai’s strength and steadfast belief in Ollie. And, his love for Ollie—which he has been pushing aside for years—is apparent in so many places in the text.
From Tai’s POV, about Ollie…
He’s framed by the blue and white of the ocean. He’s so beautiful that Tai doesn’t want to blink.
It turns out, of course, that Ollie finally realizes that he also sees Tai in a different light.
Tai is beautiful. He looks solid; his shoulders are wide in the suit. He’s warm and certain. He’s the most constant thing in a fuzzy, shifting world.
Ollie was fascinating. It’s never discussed explicitly in the book—it’s just something that those closest to him are obviously aware of—but he has some type of sensory processing issue. Specifically, a tactile sensitivity that makes touching or being touched by others very uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because I have a kid with sensory issues, but I was amazed by Henson’s descriptions in the book. A couple of examples:
He’s always needed to hold himself slightly apart from the rest of the world, especially when he’s competing. So many of the things that come easily to Tai and Sunny and even quiet Hannah are complicated to him. Touching other people is painful, visceral and immediate. It makes him flinch, sometimes, and then he’s awkward about it, as if he’s doing it wrong and thinking too hard. He’s too sensitive.
He knows he’s not like everyone else. He’s always had to keep a bit of distance. It’s not coldness, not really. It’s experience. Touch is a prickling distraction at best and raw pain at worst.
I love how considerate Tai always is of Ollie, though. Aware of his ‘edges’, as Tai says. When things start to feel like too much, the beat of the waves, and usually Tai’s presence, help slow everything down for Ollie, and calm him. Tai grounds Ollie, plain and simple. And, the reverse is also true. After all the years, and all the time spent together, their relationship just flows. It felt so organic and effortless.
There are so many beautiful, beautiful passages in this book, you guys. I have many highlights of gorgeous, poetic words. *sigh* I have to share just one more…
Yet it was Ollie who reached for Tai that first time, and he’s reached for him over and over since. Every time it’s been dazzling, but also effortless. Ollie trusts Tai, and that’s part of it. But it’s not just that. When he’s with Tai that way, Ollie doesn’t need to think. Everything stops. Tai’s careful touch is welcome, even though it’s overwhelmingly intimate.
This book was so just so quiet and lovely. I adored so many things about it. I loved the diversity. I LOVED the surfing stuff. Tai’s board shaping business was so cool; I loved, loved how proud Ollie was of Tai’s boards and how he always talked them up. Ollie’s new agent was fabulous. And, all the competition stuff, including the amazing locales, was fantastic. Do yourselves a favor, and add this one to your summer reading list!
You can buy Into the Blue here: