Saturday, October 10, 2020

Dan Wingreen - The Family We Make

Spencer Kent gave up on love a long time ago. As a twenty-eight-year-old single father with a fourteen-
year-old son, Connor, he knows his appeal to the average gay man is limited, and when you factor in his low self-esteem and tendencies towards rudeness and sarcasm, it might as well be nonexistent. But that’s okay. A man is the last thing Spencer needs or wants.
Tim Ellis’s life is falling apart around him. After four years of hard work at college, he finds himself blacklisted from the career of his dreams by the professor he refused to sleep with and abandoned by the boyfriend he thought he was going to marry. Even though he was lucky enough to land a job at a bakery, he still feels like a failure.
Tim and Spencer’s first meeting is filled with turbulent misunderstanding, but Tim makes a connection with Connor through a Big Brother/Big Sister program, and both men put aside their mutual dislike for his sake. By letting go, they may help each other find their way into a life they never could have imagined.

Comment: To demonstrate that there are always exceptions, this book hasn't been long in the pile, only since April (and it was released in March), which means it didn't take me as much as usually takes to get to a book. The blurb caught my eye and made me really curious to try it, so that's why this was next on my reading list. However, I must say it wasn't as amazing as I expected.

In this story we meet Spencer, a single gay dad who has had a child while very young himself, the result of a drunk attempt to prove he was not gay. He would never imagine the consequences but after his child Connor was born, he could not let him go and that means only 14 years separate them. His son is precisely 14 years old now and he doesn't seem to have friends at school. Spencer tries to do something about it by enrolling on a program similar to big brother/big sister where Connor can find someone he can be friends with, someone older with some experience and maturity to bring him out of shell and who can guide him into being less shy so he an make friends his own age. In comes Tim, a young man of 22, who has been a volunteer in these types of programs before but now he moved into a new place, he feels he can give some direction to his life by volunteering and that's how he meets Connor and, eventually, Spencer. After a small misunderstanding, they do seem to hit it off as friends, but would there be room for something else between them?

The idea I imagined for this book was quite similar to what really happened: Tim becomes Connor's friend, he and Spencer seem to clash at first but with time, and a mutual care for Connor, they learn to share confidences, become real friends and at some point they try to be more than that and very quickly realize they found a special person. In the meantime, Connor, who has faced some serious bullying, starts to trust Tim and with time they become a solid family. Cute and romantic, isn't it? I thought so too but putting aside the general events, I have to say the details did not convince me.

The "bones" of the story are good and several scenes were done well enough for me to enjoy the book as a whole but, really, the different elements just didn't seem as strong on their own. I suppose I can say the biggest issue is the writing itself, which happens in a very fluid manner, but the amount of information given does seem to be more than necessary at times and a lot doesn't always mean very good. Plus, there are two main conflicts in this story, the way I see it - Connor's problems and Tim's need to solve a situation in order to advance professionally -  and both are solved rather quickly close to the end of the book. I think the pace wasn't done as well as it could either.

The main characters are Spencer and then Tim and theirs are the POVs we have. Spencer is a confusing character, he is a bit of a nerd, very clever, a teacher known for his rigid rules but also competence, he feels he doesn't need anyone if that were to mean heartache. Of course he feels lonely at times but he is focused on being a good father. I liked him, his personality was shown as vibrant but shy with some self confidence issues. I think he tried too hard and he came across as being a bit too much to handle. I might being unfair but it's the sense I got. I liked he cared for his son and wanted to help but romantically speaking, he was a to say it....needy and naive.

Tim is a bit more experienced so that shows in his posture but I don't think his relationship with Spencer felt balanced all the time. He has the right values, the right state of mind, the right personality but his issues with the professor that could make him go forward in his studying were solved too quickly for the amount of time he spent thinking about them and the worry they caused. In contrast to Spencer, his sense of inadequacy is more in his professional persona, which means they should complement each other well. I didn't get that feeling, though, and I can't pinpoint if it's due to the fact they don't always act according to their age and supposed life experiences or if the author simply highlited the less appealing elements.

The romance isn't bad, the basis for that is good enough and the friendship seems to evolve in a very cute situation. I think part of my issues is when they decide to jump into intimacy. For some reasons, I didn't feel their chemistry was believable and I just could not see them working as a couple, even sexually speaking, in the long term. They did talk about their feelings and things they wanted out of a relationship but I still think they work better as friends...something in their personalities and behavior just don't seem to mesh well enough for me to buy it.

I'm certain others have seen this through different POVs and that's fine, but I admit I expected a bit more romantic situations, perhaps a more confident way of writing the story so that there could be no doubt that they were a strong team, a caring pair fr Connor. Along with some plot choices, I'm afraid that for me this book only got to average...

Grade: 6/10                                         

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