Abroad: Book Two by Liz Jacobs
Published by: Brain Mill Press
Genre: New adult
Reviewed by: Edwin
What to Expect: Friendship, family – found and blood – the wonders and challenges of coming out, and young people finding their places in the world. A perfect new adult experience.
Nick Melnikov has finally done it — he’s come out.
To himself. To his sister. And to Dex, who listens, hears him, and understands. To Dex, who kisses him and shows him all that they could be, if Nick could only find the courage. It’s one thing to let yourself be open thousands of miles away from your family, but exchange student Nick is uncomfortably aware that his time with Dex is running out. Who will he be when he goes home again?
Dex Cartwell is as happy with Nick as he’s ever been, but he can’t ignore the shadow of Nick’s inevitable departure from London, back to his life in Michigan. Is it worth it for Dex to expose his heart to another doomed relationship with a predetermined expiration date? What does Dex really want for the beginning of the next chapter in his life, post-graduation?
Dex wants to turn to his best friend in the struggle to find a way forward, but Izzy Jones has her own problems. She’s got one friend in love with her, and when she turns to another for help things get twice as complicated. Izzy never wanted complicated, but life just keeps getting in the way — and sweeping her off her feet.
Then Nick’s mom and sister come for a visit, and he is forced to decide between living his truth and protecting himself from fear and change. It’s going to take a lot of courage and a few leaps in the dark if Nick, Dex, and Izzy are to find a way to live and love on their own terms.
This review is a little difficult to write, but not because I find it difficult to talk about this book. It’s simply because it repeats many of the virtues of Abroad: Book One. Book One was one of my favourite books of 2017, and did so many things well, as I said in my review. Abroad: Book Two gives us the same closely observed group of friends, the same pitch perfect description of the immigrant experience, the same joys and worries about identity and coming out. But I can’t just say that again, can I? So: what else does Abroad: Book Two do?
I particularly enjoy the dynamics of the friend group that develop after Nick cautiously begins to come out and he and Dex begin dating. It’s the sort of relief that you have a supportive friend group, but also just a bit of weirdness, because two friends becoming one couple messes with the dynamic somewhat. Similarly, several of the side characters have awkward crushes, more or less one sided, that resolve in various different ways (this is horribly vague, I know, but being any more specific would involve massive spoilers), but at the end everyone is still friends. This shouldn’t be remarkable, but it is. Too much in the romance genre, even in the queer space, dictates that the ex or the crush who distracts from the One True Love must be forever banished, but that is far from how things actually work out. Seeing a friend group work through these changes and challenges and, after some awkwardness, remain more or less intact is great. Special mention for Izzy’s journey as a bisexual woman: this doesn’t lead where one might expect, and I applaud Jacobs for taking this plotline in the direction she does. Bonus points, too, for some really well drawn demisexual rep associated with Izzy’s story.
Nick and Dex’s interactions with their families are also very well done. Dex’s parents, who have always been supportive of his being gay, are a little taken aback at him bringing a white Russian-American boy home with him. It’s not so much hostility as wariness, both of who Nick is and the fact that he’ll be leaving. It’s a delicate topic, but Jacobs deals with it well. We’re invited to see Nick’s parents’ concerns as justified, even if they’re not being entirely fair personally to Nick. Because they wouldn’t be, would they? Their concern is their son. I really liked that the best reception Nick gets is in fact from Dex’s usually sullen younger brother. Meanwhile, Nick’s coming out to his family goes both not as well as he expects and not quite as badly as he might have feared. Again, this is presented without sensationalism on either side.
One part of Nick’s familial story line I’m slightly ambivalent about is the fact that most of Nick’s conversations with his mother are conducted in untranslated Russian. At one level this is irritating: these are deep heart to hearts Nick is having, and we as readers of a book published in English mostly won’t be able to read it. At another, though, this is the experience of dating someone in a family which speaks another language at home (as Dex is) or, indeed, the inverted version of Nick’s experience in moving to the USA from Russia without speaking any English. So I do appreciate the effect this stylistic choice might be intended to have, but I don’t know that I think it is entirely effective.
Finally, a little digression into personal biography. One of the reasons Abroad worked so well for me is that it so perfectly captures the international student experience. It’s one I very much understand. Like Nick, I went to another country to study, knowing no one there. Like Nick, I made a wonderful group of friends who were the first large group of queer friend I’d had. Like Nick, I met a gorgeous man, but the looming deadline of an expiring student visa hung like the sword of Damocles over our heads. I made it work long term (it’s our 10th anniversary this year), and without going too far into spoilers, Book Two includes an epilogue that gives Dex and Nick a wonderful HEA while at the same time being completely believable. I know of what I speak, and Abroad gets it so right.
What you might not like/doesn’t work for you:
The isolated passages in Russian might put off some readers. Those who prefer a focus on only one couple may be irritated by the non Dex and Nick plotlines.
What you will love:
There are many new adult novels. There are few that get both the details and the affect of becoming an adult right. Abroad does. Magnificent stuff. And the ending is perfect.
Edwin gets grumpy if his SF/F reading doesn’t feature happy queer main characters. Aside from that, he reads and writes for a living (though not fiction), so of course his hobby is reading, and now writing about what he reads. Why do anything else? Connect with Edwin on Twitter.