Author: Lisa Henry/J.A. Rock
Jason Banning is a wreck. His leg’s been blown to hell in Afghanistan, his boyfriend just left him and took the dog, and now he’s back in his hometown of Pinehurst, Washington, a place that holds nothing but wretched memories…and Nathan Tull. Nathan Tull, whose life Jason ruined. Nathan Tull, who will never believe Jason did what he did for a greater good. Nathan Tull, whose reverend father runs a gay conversion therapy camp that Jason once sought to bring down—at any cost.
Nathan Tull is trying to live a quiet life. Four years ago, when Nate was a prospective student visiting UW Tacoma, his world collapsed when senior Jason Bannon slept with him, filmed it, and put the footage online. A painful public outing and a crisis of faith later, Nate has finally begun to heal. Cured of the “phantoms” that plagued him for years, he now has a girlfriend, a counselor job at his dad’s camp, and the constant, loving support of his father.
But when he learns Jason is back in town, his carefully constructed identity begins to crumble. As desperate to reconcile his love for God with his attraction to men as Jason is to make sense of the damage he’s done, Nate finds himself walking a dangerous line. On one side lies the righteous life he committed himself to in the wake of his public humiliation. On the other is the sin he committed with Jason Banning, and the phantoms that won’t let him be. But is there a path that can bridge those two worlds—where his faith and his identity as a gay man aren’t mutually exclusive?
And can he walk that path with the man who betrayed him?
When I read the blurb for this one, I thought it would be interesting, timely, and provide MCs that I could love. Well, what a surprise that turned out to be! There is so much here! There’s an MC I loved to hate, and one that I should have loved but really wanted to smack upside the head a few times. The topic of gay conversion therapy is presented with pros and cons and anger and forgiveness and love and tolerance and confusion, confusion, confusion—mostly for the young people who come to the camp, the readers, but also for Nathan Tull, the preacher’s son.
I had a difficult time rating this story because the writing was outstanding, the topic timely, the characters well-developed and realistic, and even the secondary characters, including the Reverend were atypical and not the usual nasty, evil people some authors portray. But formalized religion with characters who use the Bible to explain their prejudices and beliefs is just difficult for me to read, even when I know the point of the story is to promote religious freedom and to counteract homophobic behavior. The authors presented the facts and they allowed readers to make their own decisions, but after a while, I got bogged down in the religious aspects. So although I liked the story, I wasn’t head-over-heels for it and just can’t give it the “enjoyed it” rating of a full four stars.
Jason Banning was a college senior when he met Nathan Tull, the son of the preacher from the small town he’s been living in with his aunt since the death of his parents. A photo journalism major, when the seeds of a plan to discredit Nathan’s father, Reverend Tull, who runs a gay conversion therapy camp, enter his mind, he proceeds full steam ahead without any regard for Nathan at all. The plan? He videos the first-time sex he engages in with Nathan and though it’s evident Nathan loves every moment of it, Jason impersonally takes that video, creates stills, and floods social media with the photos, the video, and with a scathing article on the horror that is the Reverend’s conversion therapy camp.
Nathan’s life choices were taken away but he’s surprised to find his father not only forgives him, but he still loves him and swings Nathan to the belief that these phantom feelings are able to be overcome and he can live a happy life with a woman by his side. The story primarily takes place four years after the opening scene, and Nathan is now working as a counselor at the camp when he learns that Jason Banning has returned to town.
Jason has been injured by a roadside bomb, effectively ending his world-traveling photo journalism career. In constant pain, and without work, he spends much of his time reflecting on his life and some of what he is discovering about himself is painful to face. He’s also living with the aunt who raised him when his parents died, and she is terminally ill so he has grief and bereavement issues to deal with in relation to her, as well as his own emotional pain. Never mind the fact that, although she’s always been proud of him, she’s disheartened by what he did to Nathan and provides him with fodder for countless hours of self-reflection.
This story is not an easy one—not by a longshot. The reverend is not a nasty man—his motivation really is love for all people, despite his firm belief that homosexuality is wrong. Much of the story takes place at the camp as kids arrive and Nathan faces a group of both savvy and disheartened boys. The savvy kids are well aware of his infamy and the one boy who is a focal point in the story is there against his will and finds Nathan’s hypocrisy disheartening. In the meantime, unknown to not only the kids, but the reverend as well, Jason and Nathan have made contact and are now seeing one another secretly. Nathan may not be able to easily forgive him, but he loves Jason—a fact that becomes more evident as the story unfolds. And Jason, the guy I hated throughout most of the book, finally reaches the conclusion that the way he bullheadedly stormed ahead with his plan without regard to Nathan’s feelings and without allowing Nathan the time and place to come out to his family, was morally reprehensible.
As I said early in the review, the story is highly complex, very detailed, and the progress toward a resolution for both the gay conversion therapy camp and for the relationship between Nathan and Jason is slow. Very slow. I’ve only covered key points in the review, but there is so much more to this story that many readers will likely enjoy the opportunity to explore it for themselves. Some of the secondary characters are very endearing, including Isaac, the boy who did not want to come to the camp. I wanted to grab him from the pages and bring him to my family so we could provide him with a positive environment for personal growth. (I do get personally involved in well-written stories.)
If you are looking for a romance that is not simple and that requires focus and concentration and a willingness to keep an open mind about formalized religion, and if you can enjoy this story for the journey of discovery that it is, then I definitely recommend this one.