Last year I read J.H. Trumble’s Where You Are, one book in a trio of gay fiction novels. The first book Don’t Let Me Go is about love, a long distance relationship, and homophobia. Where You Are follows with forbidden love between a teacher and student, And Trumble’s latest book Just Between Us is about a relationship rocked by an HIV-positive diagnosis. These books are heartfelt, emotional reads and recommended for anyone who enjoys gay fiction or mature contemporary YA.
Book: Just Between Us (companion to Don’t Let Me Go and Where You Are) by J.H. Trumble, Kensington Fiction, September 24, 2013
Book Info: Adult Contemporary/ Mature YA, review copy provided by the author, paperback 320 pages.
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.
Confronting a sensitive topic with candor and aplomb, acclaimed author J. H. Trumble renders a modern love story as sweet, sharp, and messy as the real thing, where easy answers are elusive, and sometimes the only impossible thing is to walk away.
Luke is familiar to readers of Don’t Let Me Go, and now he has his own story. Luke is in marching band, and his father isn’t the most supportive of his sexuality. Curtis is a little bit older and was involved in marching band before leaving for college. Now he helps out his former teacher and that’s where he meets Luke. There is an attraction there, but when Curtis finds out he has HIV he retreats.
Just Between Us is written in dual pov, and both stories intrigue. Curtis’s story is quite heavy, but it does not overshadow Luke. They both have their struggles, and deal with other people’s perceptions as they learn to trust and believe in themselves.
As a former band geek I loved that marching band is featured in the story. In my experience there wasn’t a lot of romance in the marching band, but it’s cute that Luke and Curtis bond over their shared interests and drum major aspirations.
The HIV diagnosis adds an interesting dimension to the story. I know with prevention and education HIV is not as prevalent as it once was, but this story hits home that you can’t throw caution to the wind regardless. Curtis’s reaction is pretty realistic in the face of the news, as he resorts to old habits in his denial. I wanted him to let people in to support him, but still his behavior was understandable.
Curtis and Luke live close by and get to know each others families. Curtis is in better shape in terms of support at home, with a supportive father and sister. But even still he can’t let them in. Luke and his dad have a strained relationship, but his brother and mother are supportive. It’s nice to see things thaw out between Luke and his dad. I also liked the friendship between Curtis and his college roommate Jaleel.
The characters that Trumble introduces are flawed but endearing. They do stupid things in the face of a stressful situation, but you can’t help but root for them. Nothing comes easy for these characters and it’s satisfying to see their personal growth along the way.
Trumble’s writing is quietly powerful and packed with emotion. And each book resonates and makes me think about how I’d handle the situations the characters find themselves in.
It was easy to get immersed back in Trumble’s book world. I read these books totally out of order, and I still need to read Don’t Let Me Go, but at least I don’t have to say goodbye to these characters yet.
Readers looking for heart wrenching reads will enjoy these books that give you all the feels. They are good mature YA/ adult crossover choices.
Each book has a book playlist and discussion questions at the end, making it a good choice for a book club, maybe even for Gay-Straight Alliance club. Check out J.H. Trumble’s book playlist for Just Between Us below. (Note: the book playlist ends with Dying to Live Again by Hedley, but that song is not available on US Spotify)
Other reviews of Just Between Us:
Rather Be Reading – Estelle says “Just Between Us is just further proof that J.H. Trumble is a mastermind when it comes to writing about real people who feel real things and don’t always make the right decisions.”
Good Choice Reading blog tour – J.H. Trumble guest post: 5 reasons why you should be reading LGBT novels
Blkosiner’s Book Blog – Brandi says “But if you think this is only an issues book you will be missing out, because at the core, it is a love story.”
The Boys on the Brink Blog – Jamie says “Yet, for all its grim moments, this is very much a novel about hope.”
I’m posting this review on LGBT spirit day, a day aimed at ending LGBT bullying. Author Malinda Lo has a great YA Pride series going on this month with feature posts every day. And Epic Reads has a list of 25 Must-Read YA Books with gay protagonists.