Title: Starting from Scratch (Housemates: Book Five)
Author: Jay Northcote
Length: 196 Pages
Category: Contemporary, Transgender Romance
At a Glance: Starting from Scratch stands alone as a sweet, touching, and lovely new chapter in a man’s life.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Starting over isn’t easy, but Ben is ready to live his life as the man he was always meant to be.
Ben is transgender and back at university after hormone treatment and chest surgery. His new housemates have no idea about his history and Ben would prefer to keep it that way. He’s starting from scratch and his life is finally on track, except in the romance department. The idea of dating guys as a guy is exhilarating but terrifying, because if Ben wants a boyfriend he’ll have to disclose his secret.
Sid is drawn to Ben from the moment they meet. He normally gets what he wants–in the short term at least. Ben’s guarded at first, and Sid’s not used to guys rejecting his advances. He eventually charms his way through Ben’s defences and helps Ben on his journey of sexual awakening.
It doesn’t matter to Sid that Ben is trans. He’s attracted to the whole person, and isn’t worried about what is–or isn’t–in Ben’s pants. They’re good together, and both of them are falling hard and fast, but Ben’s insecurities keep getting in the way. If Sid can convince Ben he’s committed, will Ben finally be able to put his heart on the line?
Review: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and thought, “I’m not at all qualified to comment on this.” Starting from Scratch is one of those books, and though I might not be up to the task, I’m going to do my best to honor both the story and the author, and I hope I can do them justice without making any verbal missteps.
I learned so much from this book.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to look in the mirror and not see my Self reflected back—the person I am on both the inside and the out. For Ben, and men like him—and I would imagine for transgender women as well—however, it’s a truth and it’s a dichotomy I mistakenly thought ended once transitioning began. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I thank Jay Northcote for making this plain in a way that allowed Ben to express the fear and anxiety, the dysphoria, the internalized transphobia and the complexity of what it means to be transgender, transitioned, and yet, among the joy of being himself, to still have those moments of anger (regret, frustration? I’m not sure precisely which adjective fits. Perhaps all of them) that his body wasn’t male enough in spite of every bit of his Self being male. This was such an important aspect of Ben’s story because it informed the way he interacted—or avoided interacting—with his housemates and the world around him, in general, and I so appreciate Northcote’s honesty and willingness to use this as a teaching moment, without it feeling so, thanks in large part to it being so well woven into the relationship that blossoms between Ben and Sid.
As a cisgender man, Sid provides for some conflicting feelings in Ben—lust and attraction, of course, but no small amount of envy as well, because Sid presents physically the way Ben identifies and is, but wasn’t born to. This aspect of the storyline wasn’t presented in a way that made for obligatory angst or for the sake of a dramatic plot element. This dysphoria and the resulting emotions surrounding it are a very real struggle for Ben, revealed so much about who he is and how he incorporates all his experiences, and it made me love him all the more for finding the courage, once he realized he wanted to be with Sid, to share all the parts of himself. Ben’s revelation was not only a courageous but a liberating moment for him, heartfelt and moving, and was also the moment Sid was allowed to shine. Rather than making assumptions about Ben, or jumping in blind, Sid took the time to do a little research which resulted in him learning some things about himself as well.
The genuine and realistic elements of this story aren’t overshadowed by the romantic, yet there is everything romantic about the fact that there is someone out there ready to be your other half, to love you for who you are rather than for who you were, or who they hope you’ll turn out to be, and that’s what grows between Ben and Sid—a deeper trust that allowed Ben to emerge as his true self to others.
Anyone who has ever assumed romantic fiction can’t also be relevant and enlightening would be wrong to assume that about Starting from Scratch. While Ben’s continuing journey may not always be filled with the support he finds from his family and friends here, it’s the self-acceptance we watch him embrace that made this story every wonderful thing that it is. And, while we do get to see all the guys from the previous books, and are introduced to the characters who will be the stars of the next book in the series, Starting from Scratch stands alone as a sweet, touching, and lovely new chapter in a man’s life.
You can buy Starting from Scratch here:
About the Author
Jay lives just outside Bristol in the West of England. He comes from a family of writers, but always used to believe that the gene for fiction writing had passed him by. He spent years only ever writing emails, articles, or website content.
One day, Jay decided to try and write a short story—just to see if he could—and found it rather addictive. He hasn’t stopped writing since.
Jay writes contemporary romance about men who fall in love with other men. He has five books published by Dreamspinner Press, and also self-publishes under the imprint Jaybird Press. Many of his books are now available as audiobooks.
Jay is transgender and was formerly known as she/her.
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