Author: Riley Parks
Summary: He didn’t paint people; the curves of their bodies and angles of their faces never interested him as much as cityscapes. The circumstances of his life had compelled him to create new worlds that he could get lost in rather than reflect the features of the people he ran from. He constructed buildings from their foundations, making them taller and stronger than he was. He adorned the edifices with countless windows, always left open or cracked so hope could pour in and fears could seep out. Tree lined streets reminded him how to breathe, pumping oxygen through the atmosphere, off the canvas, and into his lungs.
He didn’t paint people until the day he no longer desired the anonymity of his cities. The streets didn’t feel like his escape anymore, not like him. Cerulean skies gave way to pale blue eyes and bus routes to pink pouts. Evan didn’t paint people until he painted Jackson.
Review: This was a promising debut novel from this author, an enemies to lovers story with just a hint of “West Side Story”. Two rival gang members in Chicago unknowingly meet on the other sign of town, looking for fast, clandestine sex. No one can be found out as gay and stay alive in the gangs. Jackson has been in his gang for years, moving up in the hierarchy to distributor for street dealers. Evan has just joined after living on the streets for years and he’s also a coke addict. It’s a fairly gritty narrative, describing what’s required to obtain a place in the gangs, with depictions of stealing, killing and a lot of drug use. It certainly sounded and felt authentic in that respect. There was decent character building, dual POV’s and the setting created the right mood and atmosphere for most of the story.
There were a number of things that just hit the wrong notes to really draw me into the novel or the characters as a couple. Supposedly they “had eyes on them”, preventing them from leaving the gangs, yet Evan going to Jackson’s apartment every night for months was never noticed. There was building tension but not much payoff, with too much going too easily. There was some good internal dialogue from each of them but not enough to feel the love growing, mostly just sex and dirty talk, which started hot, but became tedious after the third or fourth time. When the story finally reaches a major crisis point, it has little direct impact after the fact, and no follow-up. The narrative seemed to lose some direction from there, winding down a little too gently to a soft landing and I wanted more catharsis. It simply didn’t match up well with what had gone before. I would read this author again, as the writing was quite good overall and had the potential to become more than it was. I’d still recommend it, as it was entertaining and comes with an HEA for an unlikely romantic duo.