just between usJust Between Us by J.H. Trumble

Published by: Kensington

Format: Kindle edition

Genre: MM Romance/NA

Reviewed by: Judith

Score: 9/10

Let’s get this out of the way right now: this is not a typical romance – this is so far beyond typical that typical isn’t even a blip on its radar. This isn’t a book about the s-e-x and it’s not about watching two pretty boys fall in love. It is a very gritty, very real book about 2 men learning to live and love while battling HIV for one and homophobia in the home for the other. Warning: so so good and you will most certainly cry. Like buckets full. In public.

Plot: [from Goodreads] Seventeen-year-old Luke Chesser is trying to forget his spectacular failure of a love life. He practices marching band moves for hours in the hot Texas sun, deals with his disapproving father, and slyly checks out the new band field tech, Curtis Cameron. Before long, Luke is falling harder than he knew he could. And this time, he intends to play it right.

Since testing positive for HIV, Curtis has careened between numbness and fear. Too ashamed to tell anyone, Curtis can’t possibly act on his feelings. And Luke–impulsive, funny, and more tempting than he realizes–won’t take a hint. Even when Curtis distances himself it backfires, leaving him with no idea how to protect Luke from the truth.

Review: Poignant. Sweet. Heart-wrenching. Engaging. Beautiful. Take your pick of adjectives: this book nails them all! God, J.H. Trumble has managed to write a novel that is often infuriating, heart-breaking, sexy and romantic yet ultimately hopeful and uplifting. The ability to combine so many emotions into a short 300+ pages is difficult at best but she writes with a beauty and fluidity that is unparalleled.

This book wowed me. The plot focuses on two boys – Luke, struggling with homophobia from his own father and hoping to become a band major, and Curtis, struggling to come to terms with a positive HIV diagnosis and what that could mean for his future. Their budding relationship is the focal point of the book yet their interactions are terse and often punctuated with self-hatred and anger. It was very difficult to read and not at all the usual romance fare. Somehow though it made their eventual romance so much more poignant and worthy.  The writing is superb and flawless. There’s a fluidity there that is rare to find in the genre; J.H. Trumble writes with an immediacy that puts you front and center in an overwhelming story.

I won’t lie – Curtis is not a nice person in this book. He is selfish and scared and naive in a way that made me want to smack him and force feed him drugs and food. Likewise, Luke at times seemed wise beyond 17 and his ability to love effortlessly was tough to swallow from such a young kid. Regardless, their story is a testament to love knowing no bounds and people finding hope even in the face of horrific disease.  Perhaps the most meaningful outcome for me was a desire to know more about HIV. It’s a shadowy illness that gained national attention when I was a child and as a result, I know practically nothing about it nor did I have a desire to know more. This book changed that and for that, I’m grateful beyond words.

In the end, I’m giving this 9/10.

How much did I like the heroes: 9. Luke is thoughtful and mature well beyond seventeen years old. Curtis is flirty and fun until his HIV is diagnosed at which point he becomes a mean-spirited, selfish version of himself. Luke was pretty steady and definitely a hero throughout; Curtis, as a man with HIV, was difficult to stomach and I found him hard to like. When he finally made it back to the person he was at the beginning of the book, it took a lot to get back in my good graces.

How believable is the plot:  10.  As much as I wish this wasn’t reality, young men discovering they are HIV+ is all too common. This plot line of a man discovering his illness and pushing away his friends, family, and lovers is 100% believable sadly.

How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. J.H. Trumble, I bow to her skills. She writes with candor and gorgeous prose that will hook you immediately. The interactions between the characters are effortless and her dialogue is top-notch. The world building is simply amazing.

How much did I want to keep reading: 10. Certain parts were extremely difficult to read but I had to know what would happen to Curtis – if he would finally admit that he was sick, that he would finally give in to his attraction to Luke, that he would tell his family he needed help.

Final Score: 9/10 No lie, this story gutted me. It was a surprise to find such a thoughtful look into disease and love in what I assumed was a romance novel. But there it was. This book will make you cry, I’m sure of it, and you will find yourself hard pressed to sympathize with the characters at times. But you will love this story. I can only urge you to give it a chance. You won’t regret it.



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2 thoughts on “Romance/NA review: Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble

  1. I have had my eyes set on this book since I first heard of it last year, but upon reading the synopsis, I was a bit anxious. I don’t know if my heart can take it, to be honest. At the same time, the story line is one that I know I can learn a lot from.

    Great review, Judith.

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