Dana reviews Sutphin Boulevard (Five Boroughs book 1) by Santino Hassell (Published by Dreamspinner Press, July 31, 2015, 264 pages)
A Five Boroughs Story
Michael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens, to teaching in one of the city’s most queer-friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.
Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.
When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.
I heard so much about this book when it came out so I requested to review it. Even though I love friends to lovers stories, I wasn’t drawn in by the blurb. But word of mouth drew me in and I had to read it. I’m so glad I did. The story is a lot more grittier than I expected; darker than I thought. But there is something about watching a character unravel before rising back up that always gets to me. The story takes place from Michael’s point of view, and I think the author wrote the story in a very realistic way that made me feel like I was there with Michael, living in New York, walking down it’s streets. I could feel Michael’s worries and his pain.
The story starts with Michael and Nunzio as close friends who go out after Michael breaks up with his cheating boyfriend. Their night out ends up with the two friends bringing home a guy and engaging in a very hot threesome with a stranger named David. Imagine their surprise when David ends up as a teacher in the same school that both Michael and Nunzio work for. His presence creates tensions between the three of them. Even though they were just friends, the result of the one night led Nunzio and Michael into a physical relationship so David’s presence irritates Nunzio.
This isn’t the real issue of the story, though. It’s the fact that Michael is in the closet. For him, David’s appearance brings fear of being outed at school and even worse, with his family. Michael’s mother had recently passed, but he felt a sense of responsibility to his brother who was babied all his life. He lacks direction and motivation. Then there is his rarely present father who shows up needing a place to stay while he’s sick. There is an aunt who shows concern but she’s conservative, and an uncle who is homophobic to say the least. Though there is one cousin who seems normal, there is a lot of bitterness and contention between the whole family. There were parts of me that understood his reluctance to come out to his family, but with all the hostilities I think I might have just said screw it, it can’t get much worse by coming out. The changing relationship between Michael and Nunzio, workplace tensions, and his family problems do take their toll on Michael though and his normal partying begins to spin into addiction and depression.
It was a dark and gritty realistic feeling I experienced as Michael fell deeper into the pit of addiction. As he drank to numb himself to every problem in his life. Fear combines with guilt over someone’s death and it gets even worse. There is a defining moment that I felt Michael hit rock bottom. It was one of those moments when Michael should have woken up and realized the destructive path he was on, only the shame of the situation seemed to keep him mired in his dependency. It takes something big to finally make him notice he wasn’t in control of his own life.
When he enters rehab, it felt like a different experience than the rehab stories in other books I’ve read. There is the drying out period and group sessions but it didn’t feel like there was significant change happening with the people there. Maybe it was because it wasn’t a cozy rehabilitation center like a lot of the stories send their characters. In the end though, an addict will always be an addict and they have to find the strength within to stay clean. Luckily, Michael does have reasons, the mending of his relationship with a family member, a new friend, and the possibility of happiness with an old one. I really loved the story for it’s pain and angst. I loved that there was hope in the end. It was a great story that I definitely recommend. I can’t wait for book 2.