Real World by Amy Jo Cousins
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Reviewed by: Erin
Featuring real world romance, more of the characters you love from the Bend or Break series, some truly magical rigatoni, and two guys who learn to use their words.
Plot: Five years ago, Tom Worthington busted his ass to overcome the fear and paranoia that led him to withdraw from the world and nearly lose his boyfriend. He never thought he’d find himself right back there, shutting Reese out, keeping secrets again.
Reese Anders is ready to try anything to get Tom to talk: if he can’t seduce his boyfriend with food, he’ll get Tom to open up in bed. But even Tom’s confession that his dad is getting out of prison soon doesn’t clear the air between them. And as the holidays approach, intensive mentoring from a new British boss creates more distractions, until Reese is keeping secrets of his own.
At a company Christmas party, it only takes Tom one look at Reese’s new boss to figure out how much danger their relationship is in. But he’s not about to let the connection that started all those years ago at Carlisle come to an end. It’s time to deal with their problems like adults. Face to face. Or back to front. Starting in the bedroom.
Warning: This book contains two adorable guys with way too many secrets, conciliatory rigatoni, a bedroom lesson on the power of multitasking, and indisputable evidence on what makes the perfect holiday HEA.
Review: The Real World is where Amy Jo Cousins takes her New Adult book, Off Campus, and brings the characters into…well, Adult Adult. Not in the sexytimes sense, though there is plenty of that. This book explores that period of life where you’re working, but it’s not a good job, and you have a relationship, but it’s kind of settling into familiarity, and you have friends, but sometimes you lose touch. This book shows us Tom and Reese after college, where they are trying to find their place in the world as adults and with each other.
I have to admit, I am a first times kind of girl; the thing I like best about romances is the arc of people meeting, struggling, then finding each other. Established relationship stories don’t always do it for me. However, this story succeeds on the strength of its characters and the complexity of the relationship. It shows how smaller problems can snowball into larger problems, especially when human nature takes over. Tom is struggling with the news that his father may be released from prison; this sends him into a depression, which causes him to retreat from Reese and fuels his paranoia that other see him as tainted by association. This is all made worse by the fact that there are funds missing at his company, which sends Tom into a spiral of “What if they all think it’s me?” mixed with “Maybe it really was me and I’m inherently terrible,” a spiral anyone with depression or anxiety can recognize. He pulls away from Reese, works all hours of the night, and barely responds to Reese’s sexual overtures.
Now, Reese doesn’t know anything about what’s going on; he only knows that Tom is cold, distant, and always working or sleeping. He’s feeling very dissatisfied at his receptionist job, and between the drudge work at his job and the cold shoulder from Tom, his self-esteem takes a dive. So when the hot marketing guy at work gives him an exciting new project and feeds his ego, well…it’s easier to throw himself in that direction, than to keep beating himself against the walls Tom has built. So he just lets Tom pull away while he climbs the corporate ladder.
If this were any other author, Hot Marketing Guy would be a moustache-twirling villain who intended to seduce Reese the whole time, or Tom’s depression would spiral into an overdose, or there would be some kind of melodramatic confrontation, but no. Tom and Reese find their way back together by using their words (and a pan of conciliatory rigatoni) and with a little help from their friends. There is no magical fix for their problems, just a very true to life portrayal of two young men trying to find their footing in the real world.
What may not work for you: If you don’t know the characters from the previous books, you won’t understand this one. It’s not a stand-alone. And if you want a big, sweeping, falling-in-love romance novel, this isn’t for you either. It’s more of a character study.
What I loved: Complicated young adult relationships, a realistic portrayal of anxiety and depression, no cookie-cutter villains, and a terrific rigatoni recipe at the end of the book! (Make it. I did, and I will make it again. Many, many times.)