The Boy Next Door is a cute premise that just didn’t capture my attention. The characters have some good depth and the writing is perfunctory. There are several themes that are likely to appeal to fans and some nice use of tension. The conflict is kept real and believable throughout the story, so much so I didn’t actually buy into the happy ending and resolution. Unfortunately there are many issues left hanging as well with the hope that together the two men can get through them. Unfortunately I don’t really believe they will so that combined with a few other issues just killed my enjoyment.
The story is as the title suggests a friends turned lovers theme. Boyhood friends Lowell and Jase grew apart in high school but now reconnect when Lowell moves back to their hometown. Lowell is dealing with an ailing mother while Jase has a young daughter to take care of. The plot is very character dependant and that’s not a bad thing. If you can connect to the two men and care about their plight, this story could be a contemporary comfort read. It has all the elements of an easy, enjoyable romance for the right reader.
Unfortunately for me I became increasingly frustrated with both Jase and Lowell. The story does a good job of developing both characters. They’re not perfect or evil but complex men with fears, flaws, strengths and weaknesses. Jase struggles the most with unrealistic expectations and a huge guilt complex. He got married knowing he was gay so when the marriage predictably unraveled, Jase feels responsible for everything and everyone. He excuses his ex-wife’s behavior out of guilt and constantly says mean, hurtful things to Lowell out of fear. While I can understand this and even applaud Lowell for calling Jase on these actions, Lowell simply takes the pain and keeps going in the relationship.
There are brief moments when Lowell pretends that he’s done with Jase after Jase has said and done yet another horrible thing out of fear and guilt, but Lowell always rationalizes everything due to the situation with Jase’s daughter. I found this issue made both men very unlikable for me. I didn’t like Jase’s waffling and bad actions towards Lowell but more so I hated that Lowell never really stood up for himself. He says the actions and comments are wrong and Jase agrees but Lowell simply gives in and claims love as the reason he continues. I was left feeling the two men shouldn’t be together and actually don’t really stand a chance at staying together.
Additionally there are several tangents that don’t really add anything to the story. There is the subplot about Lowell’s mother that seems to come in and out of the story without any real purpose; especially so when the problem is not resolved at the end. There is also the secondary character of Neil and his closeted boyfriend that is doesn’t really fit with the story but all I can imagine is there is a sequel staring these two so perhaps that’s why it’s included now. I found both subplots distracting and not very interesting.
Overall this just didn’t work for me. I didn’t care for the writing very much with the rhetorical questions and very short action style of writing dominating the prose. (Ie. “He walked to the bed. He sat down. He removed his shirt.”) This is strange since I’ve read other things by this author I liked a lot so perhaps this will hit big with the right reader.