Harmony Ink Press
It took me awhile to pick this book up because I just didn’t care for the look of the model on the cover – not fair, I know, but I do think covers are a factor. And after I started reading, I realized that the model looked nothing like the actual character in the story—we’re told on p 43 that Robbie Messana has flaming red hair, and it’s his brothers who are brunets. Whoops!
I didn’t feel drawn into the universe, either – the obvious bully of a father, and the downtrodden narrator making excuses for his abuser. This, though, was a great bit of characterization. It sets up the primary conflict neatly, and I suspect for many younger readers it mirrors the built-in conflicts of adolescence. At first, the reader can’t be sure if Robbie is just having a pity party or his father’s a mean jerk.
That’s cleared up pretty fast. Robbie’s father really is a cruel, resentful man who takes out his anger at his wife on two of their kids. He manages to make what ought to be an ideal life for a horse-loving kid into a regimented drudge. It’s all work and no play, and while Robbie’s older brother is a carbon copy of his father, the younger boys are constant targets who get no praise and all criticism.
Things go from bad to worse very quickly when his wife apologizes to her sons and walks out on Dan Messana. It was difficult to think highly of her, because if she had not realized that her middle son was her husband’s favorite object of abuse she wasn’t very good at protecting her kids, and she didn’t make any attempt to take any of them with her.
After a couple more disasters, Messana Senior loses his job (most likely due to his anger management issues) and takes the three boys (Daniel Jr., Robbie, and Ben, the youngest) to live with his brother-in-law, Caleb, while he looks for another trainer job. For apparently the first time in his life, Robbie gets a look at normal family life, and quickly makes friends with the only other kid his age on his uncle’s ranch. This story is a romance, so it’s not much of a surprise when Robbie and Sam form a friendship based on their mutual love of horses and the isolated situation.
No spoilers here. We get a satisfying HEA, but you have to read it and find out for yourself.
It has the added diversity of being an interracial romance, and I liked the fact that the only person who has any Ace Katzenbooks continued problems with that is Robbie’s father.
I have a couple of minor criticisms: One is that the bad guy is very, very bad and the good guys are very, very good. Not much nuance to these characters, though since we see them all through the eyes of a couple of teenagers, that does fit the way kids often see adults. Also, I do wish the author had let Robbie – in first-person narration – describe Sam when they first meet, because the first clue we have that he’s African-American is when Robbie meets Sam’s mother. Since Messana is racist, it’s not likely that Robbie would have had the chance to get to know any kids of other races as friends and I think he would mention that. It’s a fairly minor point, except that Messana’s racism is what pushes Uncle Caleb’s easy-going nature to the point where he has to lay down the law and that precipitates a very satisfying resolution.
This is a book I’d recommend to anyone looking for a gift for a gay youngster – or, really, any kid who likes horses. Four pawprints! (in this case, maybe hoofprints…)
Review provided by Ace Katzenbooks for the June 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.