Marc and Dana review Spencer (Survivor Stories Book 3) by J.P. Barnaby (Published by Dreamspinner Press, March 20, 2014, 214 pages, available on audio September 15, 2014, narrated by Tyler Stevens, 7 hours and 33 minutes)
A survivor story
It’s been nearly five years since Aaron woke up in the hospital so broken, he couldn’t stand the sight of his own face. The flashbacks no longer dominate his life, but he’s still unable to find intimacy with his lover, Spencer Thomas. With time, patience, and the support of his family, his therapist, and his loving partner, Aaron has figured out how to live again. The problem is, Spencer hasn’t. His life has been on hold as he waits for the day he and Aaron can have a normal relationship. Hoping to move things forward for them both, he takes a job as a programmer in downtown Chicago, leaving Aaron alone.
Reeling in the wake of Spencer’s absence, Aaron receives another shock when his attackers are caught.
Now, he must testify and verbalize his worst nightmare. Publicly reliving his trauma without Spencer at his side destroys his precarious control. But he finds someone who can understand and empathize in Jordan, who watched his brother cut down in a school shooting. With Spencer gone and the DA knocking at his door, Aaron seeks solace in Jordan, and Spencer will have to risk everything to hold on to Aaron’s love.
Dana – Unlike the cover of Aaron, I don’t recognize the model for Spencer. I don’t know if he is famous or not, but he is an attractive man and the cover is simple and pleasing to the eye.
Marc – Like Dana, I don’t recognize the cover model either. Having one name and one model on the cover makes it personal (though as was mentioned before, ‘Aaron’ and ‘Spencer’ are about both boys. I’m really a fan of the font used for the title and while this cover was not as intriguing to me as ‘Aaron’, at this point I didn’t need anything more, because Aaron was brilliant and I knew I would listen to this one for sure!
Dana – Simple title. Appropriate to finish the series with the other main character’s name. Again the story is told from both Aaron and Spencer’s points of view so it is not just about Spencer but the two of them.
Marc – I completely agree with everything Dana said. lol. Nothing to add.
Dana – I liked the consistency in using the same narrator, Tyler Stevens for Spencer as they did for Aaron. I don’t have much to add that wasn’t in my review for Aaron.
Marc -Having the same narrator means that the characters are brought to life in the same way. It is very irritating, when narrators are changed in a series and suddenly one of the characters speaks different, has a completely different voice and the images in our heads do’t hold up.
So, I was glad it was the same narrator. The way he voices Spencer is brilliant and feels authentic. For me, his narration of Aaron is also spot-on. I can feel so much emotion bundled together in his voice, trying to break out from him. It’s like the drugs and the trauma have been a cage and have kept him separate from his life. I think this struggle and these emotions can be found in the narration, even if the voice actor doesn’t use a huge range in his voice. For me it’s all right there and it made the characters come to life in an authentic way.
Dana – It’s three years after Spencer and Aaron fell in love in book 1, and honestly not much has changed. The two boys have graduated but Aaron still lives his life in fear. He loves Spencer with all his heart but still can’t show him physically. He tries but each time he freezes up or hides his tears from the boy he loves while he attempts to make him feel good.
Spencer loves Aaron but he has come to the point of trying to decide whether love will be enough to get them to stay together. Now that they have graduated they have been given job offers and Spencer wants to take it, but can’t hurt Aaron.
The hardest part of reading these two books in the Survivor stories is not the tragedy that Aaron went through, though the details are horrifying. It’s not even the ways that the incident affected him directly, i.e. the way he can’t look at his own image, his fear of people, of others touching him. The part that hits my heart the hardest is the way that Aaron recognizes how his fears affect those around him, and how he carries that guilt on top of everything else that has happened to him.
He has to consider Spencer who wants to take their relationship further, and who wants to move their lives into adulthood, have their own place to live and jobs in the city. He can’t hold Spencer back even though he knows it will kill him when he leaves. It hurts him that his brother Allen is leaving to go to college and hurts him even more that Allen second guesses his own life out of worry for Aaron. His other brother Anthony is self destructing. He is surly and rude and Aaron knows that it is because of him and the attention focused on him leaving both of his brothers feeling invisible. All this weighs on Aaron and it is easy to see how deep his pain goes. It can be hard for an empathetic reader like myself to take in.
Spencer has his own battles being away from Aaron especially when the kidnappers/murderers are caught and Aaron has to face seeing their faces when testifying. Spencer wants to be there for him just as much as he appreciates his independence. With new work friends, and going out instead of staying inside, the temptations to stray are strong. It doesn’t help Spencer that Aaron has made a new friend and seems to be doing okay without him.
While Aaron is still deeply troubled in the beginning, by the end we get to see significant progress thanks to continuing therapy and a PTSD seminar he attends. It culminated to a beautiful ending and while we don’t get a glimpse into Aaron and Spencer’s future, I think we can see that their love is very strong and will last. It was a great conclusion to the series.
Marc – So, we left off this story with Aaron fighting his way out of over-medicated numbness and taking back some control, fighting for his love. It was a huge step for him and was such a positive note to end the book on that it helped me to swallow all the darker memories of abuse he struggled with. It left off with a positive feeling and I really wanted to listen to this next audiobook as soon as possible.
What I really loved most about ‘Spencer’ is that it doesn’t just skip over the difficulties.
Sure, Aaron has come a long way, but the events of the past are still keeping him from having a ‘normal’ life and a ‘normal’ sexual relationship with his boyfriend. He made a huge step in the right direction, especially compared to the almost catatonic state he was in at the beginning of ‘Aaron’, but every tiny success takes a long time and both ‘Aaron’ and ‘Spencer’ really struggle with it.
It’s like my mind filled in the fantasy that everything would work out for them, now that the first step was done, after reading ‘Aaron’, but the author brings us a reality check with this sequel.
It is very clear that both Aaron and Spencer love each other very much, but Aaron is not yet ready for some of the things Spencer wants and needs. There is a huge opportunity that would reward all the work both of them did on their project and it’s Spencer’s dream come true. There is money, respect, independence at the tip of his fingers, but his boyfriend is unable to follow him.
Should he put his dreams on hold for love and let an incredible opportunity go to waste? Can he leave ‘Aaron’ behind, even though he needs his boyfriend close to him for his slow and painful progress? Can Aaron even ask that of him and if they try to bridge the distance, will their love survive?
The struggles they face are not easy. They are no kids anymore, they are adults and the choices and difficulties reflect that fact.
‘Aaron’ is not as acute a drama case as he used to be anymore and he feels the interest of his star therapist wane as he is referred to other therapists more often and feels left alone with his problems.
He is very perceptive about the way his situation affects others, which was the most heart-breaking thing in the previous book and broke my heart here as well. He is such a wonderful young man and I just wanted everything to work out for him. At the same time, I could completely understand Spencer and his personal struggles. His life was on hold, but is it fair to ask him to sacrifice his life, to only life for Aaron. A very difficult situation.
At this point I should mention that the blurb is somewhat misleading. At no point does Aaron cheat on Spencer and Spencer doesn’t either… in any major way.but that doesn’t make the problems they face easier to deal with.
If their relationship and lives weren’t uncertain enough, this is the moment when a major event happens that could either destroy Aaron’s life completely and throw him back into his broken state or give him back the control over his life that was taken from him. Will he have to face it alone and can he look his terrible past in the face?
For me, this was a perfect sequel to one of the best books I read in this genre. Aaron and Spencer’s stories are heartbreaking, emotional, realistic and in the end very hopeful. Readers will root for them on their long and stony path to a fulfilled life and relationship. After all they went through, I was glad they found their happiness in the end.
10/10 pots of gold