Dana reviews Private Display of Affection by Winter Sandberg (Published by Harmony Ink Press, December 11, 2013, 210 pages) A copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.
This week is a Rainbow Gold Reviews re-read week. I read this book around two years ago when I was new to the m/m genre. Since I hadn’t reviewed it yet, it seemed like the right time. It had been a while so I had to re-read and I enjoyed it even more than the first time.
Blurb: Hugo Thorson knows he’s gay, but coming out during high school is not part of his plan. His parents are open-minded, but Hugo doesn’t want to add more stress for anybody, especially his dad, who is fighting terminal cancer.
At a summer job he meets and befriends Kevin Magnus, and before long, their friendship becomes something more. Kevin knows this will anger his overbearing father, so he decides to protect his secret by dating a girl at school.
Hugo plays along, but it’s still hard to watch the two of them together just to make Kevin’s homophobic father happy. And when Hugo’s father dies, he realizes he can’t go on living the lie. He comes clean to Kevin, who decides Hugo’s true feelings are more important than his father’s expectations.
One fact remains: Kevin and Hugo’s relationship must always be hidden behind friendship, lies, girlfriends, or secret kisses. Will they find a sanctuary big enough to hold their feelings?
Adapted as a Young Adult edition of the novel Spark by Posy Roberts, published by Dreamspinner Press, 2013
I love romance novels, particularly m/m romance novels. I love the beginning stages of a relationship and the intimate moments between the characters. Lately I have found a greater appreciation for coming of age novels with young adult characters discovering who they are as people and who they might be attracted to. Private Displays of Affection is one of those stories.
Hugo is a high school student in the summer before his junior year when he meets Kevin. Both boys are more mature than most other boys their age, but for completely different reasons. Hugo’s dad has terminal cancer and though his parents have been trying to fight it with doctor visits and procedures, Hugo has to face the knowledge that his time with his dad is limited. He keeps his sexuality secret during this time so not to rock the boat. But Hugo knows he is gay and he doesn’t question it and isn’t ashamed of his desires. He is remarkably well adjusted and mature for all that he is facing.
Kevin’s father is demanding and pushes him to be the best he can be. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but he also want’s Kevin to follow the career path he has laid out for him and that he has taken himself. He doesn’t care that Kevin makes good friends instead wants him to make good connections. Kevin’s mom says that is how he shows his love, but I can’t buy that. Love someone means it’s unconditional and the other’s happiness is more important. If he could balance that out instead of controlling Kevin’s every move, perhaps Kevin wouldn’t need to hide his entire life from his father. New to the town and school, when Kevin meets Hugo, he finds someone who cares about what he thinks and wants for a change. His previous thoughts that he was straight come into question as he gets to know Hugo more.
The friendship and relationship that builds between the boys that summer is extremely sweet. They learn a lot about themselves as they explore each other. There is intimacy between them, and lets be honest, most teenagers are sexually active. The author does shy away just short of describing the acts they perform, but acknowledges they are performing them. It worked really well for me with the ages they are. As school starts though pressures from Kevin’s dad and what being out at school could mean for them leads the boys to hiding away their feelings and possibly find girlfriends to secure their stories.
Like all young love stories, feelings get hurt and they have doubts about their future. But the maturity they both display and the feelings they let grow over the summer are stronger than the obstacles in their way. I really enjoyed reading about the two of them. I found myself wishing for a better relationship for Kevin and his family, but that would require his father to change his ways. Hugo’s family was amazing. They not only accepted Hugo and loved him for who he was but they took Kevin under their protective wings and showed him the compassion he had been missing. The end of the book is HFN if anything as the boys start their senior years of high school. It feels like they have what it takes but there is so much that can still occur that might drive them apart. They are young. I can only hope for the best but it’s sort of open ended.
Private Display of Affection is a prequel of the North Star Trilogy by Posy Roberts so you can bet I will be reading that soon. In the mean time I definitely recommend this sweet story of self recognition and young love.
8.5/10 Pots of Gold (85% Recommended) – Compares to 4.25/5 Stars
Winter Sandberg grew up in a place nicknamed The Magic City, and the view from her house on the hill had her convinced the name fit perfectly for years. Spending time backstage or in music practice rooms took up a lot of Winter’s time, but hanging out with friends was truly preferred. Days after her eighteenth birthday, she headed to college not knowing how to cook.
Nowadays Winter gets paid to help people solve their family problems and then comes home and writes. She happily leaves the cooking to her husband, who is also teaching their daughter that skill so she won’t have to survive on ramen noodles when she moves away from home like Winter did.
Winter writes about transformative moments, exploring how characters manage to work through difficult times. How they respond may not be easy to see and is often not pretty, but they are genuine reactions to having life tipped on its edge. Coming out on the other side is where the good stuff is seen, and Winter likes to write about those moments of true growth rather than simply fading to black.