The Road To Byron by Isabelle Rowan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was in the mood for some Isabelle Rowan excellent writing so went cruising to see if I’d missed any books. I found two I hadn’t read so far and this was the first I dove into. I like the story and characters, it’s sweet and thankfully not the classic best friends turned lovers. Instead it focuses on the road to maturity for a young adult. The story feels short and rushed in some places but I also appreciated the shorter length. The story would have been much more intense and darker if it was longer and delved more deeply into the brief issues covered. Instead I like the quick romance and surface treatment of abuse. It’s not a slam dunk of a story but I was entertained and glad I read it.
The story revolves around newly graduated 18 y/o Matt and his best friend Craig. The two decide to go on a road trip before college and Craig brings along his girlfriend Kelly. Matt is gay and has been in love with Craig for a while but knows nothing will happen. Luckily he meets sexy Damien on the road and sparks fly. There’s just one small detail in that Matt has never told Craig he’s gay.
First I have to say Rowan’s writing is clean, crisp, and engaging from start to finish. There is a subtle Aussie flair to the writing but nothing overdone and it’s obviously organic. I quite like this feel and keeps me interested even when the story doesn’t. Matt’s characterization is the most developed by far, followed by a deep examination of his friendship to Craig. Matt is far from perfect and in many ways is very immature and young. Though his mom died when he was young (I think?) Matt has never had a boyfriend or even a real sexual encounter. He clings to his friendship with Craig like a lifeline, a need and desire for stability that is reciprocated deeply in Craig. I appreciate the author’s choice very much to keep these two as brothers and friends and instead find romantic love in other people.
The other cast is slightly more problematic. They’re all adorable and fun to read about, no doubt, but they have little of the same depth as Matt and to some extent, Craig. Damien is more of an idea of a person than a fully fleshed out individual and the two female roles, while positive and engaging, exist to support and nurture Matt and Damien’s relationship. Likewise there are some very serious and deep issues brought up over the course of the story but they are handled very lightly. Craig is from an abusive home and the systematic beatings from his father have an obvious and very serious impact on both Craig and Matt. Similarly the death of Matt’s mother must have changed both boys. However the story doesn’t really go into detail here and keeps it very superficial. Instead the focus is on Matt’s internal conflict and his fears.
I noted the problems, but also realize the somewhat lighter, easy tone of the story would have altered dramatically if these issues were truly developed. So I could and did enjoy the story despite these drawbacks and even appreciated the lighter touch. Combined with the excellent writing and this is an easy to read, fun story. Matt as a character would likely grate on my nerves if this went on any longer, mired in indecision, fear, and immaturity but this is also forgivable considering his age and inexperience. I’m not convinced their relationship is true love but I did like the ending. Fans of the author will probably like this one and those new to the author will get a good feel for the writing and tone. I’d recommend it.