“Monsters are very real. But they’re not just creatures. Monsters are everywhere. They’re people. They’re nightmares…They are the things that we harbor within ourselves.” ― C. Robert Cargill
Author: JP Barnaby
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 216 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: It’s been nearly five years since Aaron woke up in the hospital so broken, he couldn’t stand the sight of his own face. The flashbacks no longer dominate his life, but he’s still unable to find intimacy with his lover, Spencer Thomas. With time, patience, and the support of his family, his therapist, and his loving partner, Aaron has figured out how to live again. The problem is, Spencer hasn’t. His life has been on hold as he waits for the day he and Aaron can have a normal relationship. Hoping to move things forward for them both, he takes a job as a programmer in downtown Chicago, leaving Aaron alone.
Reeling in the wake of Spencer’s absence, Aaron receives another shock when his attackers are caught.
Now, he must testify and verbalize his worst nightmare. Publicly reliving his trauma without Spencer at his side destroys his precarious control. But he finds someone who can understand and empathize in Jordan, who watched his brother cut down in a school shooting. With Spencer gone and the DA knocking at his door, Aaron seeks solace in Jordan, and Spencer will have to risk everything to hold on to Aaron’s love.
Review: There are some characters who are simply more real than others; characters whose emotions are acute, whose pain is visceral, whose evolution is sublime, and whose victories—both the big and the small—are all the more glorious because their suffering has been all the more excruciating for the reader to witness. Aaron Downing is that character for me. His is a journey of shattered dreams and shadows of a life that might have been, a journey filled with doubt and hope, fear and faith, and of an aching that’s raw and vicious and resonates so deeply that it’s nearly tangible.
JP Barnaby has continued Aaron’s story in Spencer, three years after the boys began their relationship, five years after the horrific crime that left his friend Juliette dead and Aaron a shell, emotionally crippled and physically scarred, afflictions he’s still fighting, not to overcome—because those memories will always haunt him—but to somehow integrate into a life he can embrace rather than an existence he must endure from one moment to the next. The past is a living, breathing specter that threatens to erase the dreams of a future where simply being with Spencer seems an unattainable fantasy for Aaron, and the narrative, every single word, paints a picture that morphs from one moment to the next—beautiful in the light and tragic in the darkness that is always there and always threatens to consume.
Spencer Thomas has entirely reconfigured his life since meeting Aaron, in order to accommodate his boyfriend’s suffering, something that at times feels like sacrifice and at other times feels like nothing more than the deep and abiding love he has for a lost and broken man. JP Barnaby has translated Aaron’s torment into a presence in this series, then made Spencer his lodestar, the one who guides Aaron’s heart toward the promise of peace. This is a story of growth for both Spencer and Aaron, a story that shows it’s impossible to fly unless you give yourself room to spread your wings, and that you can’t soar until you give yourself permission to reach beyond the walls you’ve built to protect yourself.
Spencer is a story about finding the courage to face demons and extend boundaries to include people, complete strangers, who know exactly where you’ve been and where you are now but whose pain is shaped differently enough from your own that instead of making you feel even more broken, it makes you feel as though the fraying edges aren’t quite so ragged anymore, and that it’s okay to open the doors of the prison that’s been your mind and body, for the one person who will keep them both safe and cherish the gift.
Spencer is, simply put, an emotionally articulate and gripping novel that doesn’t sugarcoat Aaron’s agony, nor is it a book that allows Aaron and Spencer to run from the truth. From cover to cover, these men face their fears and confront their monsters in an honest display of respect for who they are and for what they’ve endured, and in the end, JP Barnaby allows us to cry with them, hurt with them, smile with them, mourn their tragedies with them and finally, to celebrate their triumphs with them while we embrace all their possibilities.