- Review by Cindi
**This review contains slight spoilers.**
Derek O'Reilly has just gotten engaged to Nathan after being with him for two years. The relationship is an odd one with it being mostly one-sided on Nathan's part. Derek is shy and avoids conflict so he follows along with whatever Nathan wishes. Two years and Derek has never given himself completely. There is always something, someone holding him back.
"What happened to me? I grew up, and then caught a deadly virus called adulthood."
During a visit to Derek and Nathan's new apartment, Derek's Aunt Frannie opens Derek's eyes to something he has tried to avoid for over seventeen years. Fran is dying of cancer and has been cleaning out her apartment. While doing so, she stumbles on an old diary that a young eleven-year-old Derek had kept. Inside are Derek's wishes, his dreams, of that long ago time. Derek did not have the best of childhoods. His mother lost a son who Derek never had the opportunity to meet and she was never the same again. His father was mostly absent though when he was around he wasn't a loving father. Derek begins writing to his late brother who he calls Bump. Dear Bump.... is the beginning of each entry in the diary. In it, Derek tells the story of his home life, his friends and most importantly, his first love, Nicolai (Nick) who was his neighbor and best friend's (Boone's) brother who was a few years older than Derek.
My dearest Bump.
I had forgotten about you.
Seventeen years have passed since I last wrote to you.
"Not only are you not going to play soccer with Dad, you're not even going to be alive."
The story is told via old diary entries and in present day. With each entry the reader is taken back to a time when a young boy was trying to deal with not only the typical issues of childhood but also the scary feelings of falling for another boy when he had been raised to believe that was wrong. Nicolai is an angry teen. Never harsh with Derek but always in and out of some kind of trouble at home, school and in the community. His relationship with his parents is strained but he is close to his brother and little sister.
Opening the old diary takes Derek back to Nick. Nick, the reason why Derek is unable to give himself fully to another. Nick, the only person Derek has ever loved. During a particular bad moment, adult Derek sees his best friend Boone for the first time in seventeen years. This is shortly after discovering his old diary. Seeing Boone again opens the door for Derek to see the rest of the family and this includes Nicolai who has not remained close to his family members. Seeing Nick again and reading his own words from his childhood force Derek to see that what he has been doing with Nathan is just wasting time. Nathan is a horrible human being. He is away a lot and it's obvious to Derek and the reader that he's not spending these business trips alone. He degrades Derek constantly and makes him feel small. Seeing Nick again forces him to take stock in his life and his relationship with the man he is supposed to marry.
This book is difficult to read at times. The child Derek will break your heart as he did mine. His mother emotionally abandoned him when she lost her unborn son. His father doesn't understand him nor does he try to. Boone's family treats him more as family than his own with the exception of his Aunt Frannie. But spending any time in Nick's presence makes Derek so filled with nerves that he becomes physically ill. His feelings for this other boy disturb him so much that the physically harms himself and is rushed to the hospital at one point.
How can I love someone so much, but be invisible to him?
I closed my eyes and tried to make my heart stop beating. I prayed to God, "Make this heartbeat be my last."
But it never was.
There was always another one, then another, and another until all I could hear and feel was my stupid heart thundering inside me. I clenched my fists, bit down on my lip, and prayed harder.
It never stopped.
I slapped my chest.
It kept beating.
Boom. Boom. Boom.
I slapped it harder.
I hit it again and again, but it kept beating, so I hit it again.
You can't read the diary entries without feeling sympathy for the young boy. When Derek becomes an adult he holds everything in. He avoids conflict which causes him to be taken advantage of. Instead of standing up for himself with Nathan, he just goes with the flow. It takes Nick coming back into his life for Derek to finally make a stand with the man he is supposed to marry. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy to finally force him in the right direction.
I really enjoyed this book. I found myself teary-eyed many times. Watching the young Derek as he battles to understand his feelings for the boy next door is heartbreaking. Seeing the adult Derek not stand up and fight for himself got frustrating. I understood it for sure but it was hard to read just the same. There are some humorous moments, however, so not all is down. Lene, Boone and Nick's sister, is hilarious from the moment she is introduced as a young girl until she is again as an adult. She is the ultimate female character.
"Lene wants to kiss you on the mouth on Tuesday."
Lene is Boone's sister. She's nine. She has a crush on me. She always sticks love notes in my running shoes. I'm probably going to marry her, but first I need to travel to Asia. All the grown men I know have two things in common: they drink too much brown liquor, and have never gone to Asia. I think there's something there. If I want to be successful, I need to visit Peking.
Boone and Nick's parents are interesting to read about though I question a few things with their mother. Derek's mother's grief is written realistically.
"Since she came home, Mom's eyes are like Grandma's dish soap and our apartment is like an empty coconut."
What would Mom say? Would she punish me? Would she call Dad? Would she cry and scream? I was hoping she would. At least that way, she wouldn't be sleeping.
His father was not in the book enough for me to form a strong opinion of him one way or another. Aunt Frannie is a treat. She takes care of Derek when his parents can't... or won't. She opens his eyes years later to what he has pushed to the back of his mind for over seventeen years. With the exception of one small instance, I adored Frannie.
My only issues with the book are as follows:
- I do not feel that there is enough time given to Derek and Nick as a couple when they become adults. While I could see where the author was going (in a sense) I felt that more time should have been dedicated to the two, especially in one particular circumstance. What happened when Nick shows up at the hospital and takes Derek home, leaving Nathan behind? He grabs his hand and that's that. Nothing else until a few days later. This happens often in the book with quite a bit of fast-forwarding with zero details given of what happened in between.
- Nick is battling his own demons and these come out long into the book. However, I do not feel that they justified his treating Derek as just a booty call. The real emotion for Nick does not come out until long after I had gotten frustrated with him for pulling his disappearing acts. He knows how Derek feels but yet he doesn't treat him with the respect I felt he deserved after a night of sex.
- As much as I despised Nathan, I wanted to see more of him. He is not a nice guy (by any means) but I feel that if you are going to make someone out to be a bad guy, there should be more than just a few nasty comments by him here and there.
- I do not always need graphic sex in my books but I do feel that a few more details thrown in with Nick and Derek (especially during their first time together) would have been nice. A lot of the sex is off-page and as I said, I'm fine with that on occasion but I felt that the lack of details took a little away from the reunion.
Overall, an outstanding book. Sure, I had a few minor issues but not enough to take away from the story as a whole. This book will suck you in with the first diary entry and you will have a difficult time putting it down. I ached for young Derek as he loved the older boy from afar. Nerves cause him to stutter and to get physically ill on top of the unfamiliar changes in his body as a result of Nicolai. I felt so much sympathy for him.
I forget how to breathe.
My face burns.
My brain hums.
And sometimes, I get this funny feeling deep inside my stomach, like a hot liquid pouring into my shorts.
It only happens when Boone's older brother sits at the table. He mostly doesn't because he's fifteen.
But I can't take that chance. Sometimes, Boone's brother doesn't come until dessert is served, and that's the worst because I love Mrs. Lund's tapioca pudding, but I just can't seem to swallow when Nicolai Lund is around.
I laughed at the antics of Lene and Boone. I wanted to shake Derek's mother as she turned her back on her only living child. I understood what she was feeling but I still hated watching Derek as he was basically forgotten in the midst of it all. Aunt Frannie is amazing and everyone should have an aunt like her.