***This is a review of an upcoming release. This title is scheduled to be released on May 3, 2022.***
I’ve been in a queer romance place for the past few weeks. I’ve mentioned before that I am a mood reader, and when I read something awesome—the breathtaking Borrowing Blue by Lucy Lennox was the culprit this time—well, that launches me down an endorphin-seeking rabbit hold that is hard to climb out of. Not that I want to climb out of a rabbit hole filled with so many delicious boys falling in love.
But I digress.
I was, therefore, thrilled to see that one of the books I owe NetGalley a review on this month was Never Been Kissed, the queer debut novel from multi-disciplinary storyteller Timothy Janovsky. But did it measure up? Or will this be the cold water that shocks me back to other genres?
Wren Roland has never been kissed, but he wants that movie-perfect ending more than anything. Feeling nostalgic on the eve of his birthday, he sends emails to all the boys he (ahem) loved before he came out. Morning brings the inevitable Oh God What Did I Do?, but he brushes that panic aside. Why stress about it? None of his could-have-beens are actually going to read the emails, much less respond. Right?
Enter Derick Haverford, Wren's #1 pre-coming-out-crush and his drive-in theater's new social media intern. Everyone claims he's coasting on cinematic good looks and his father's connections, but Wren has always known there's much more to Derick than meets the eye. Too bad he doesn't feel the same way about the infamous almost-kiss that once rocked Wren's world.
Whatever. Wren's no longer a closeted teenager; he can survive this. But as their hazy summer becomes consumed with a special project that may just save the struggling drive-in for good, Wren and Derick are drawn ever-closer...and maybe, finally, Wren's dream of a perfect-kiss-before-the-credits is within reach.
This book was just lovely. The story was sweet, the romance was a delightful slow burn, and, most importantly for me, I believed in the couple. The story was a little fantastical—saving a drive-in theater in 2022 seems like an insurmountable ask—but there were quirky supporting characters aplenty to keep us entertained. That the leads two best friends were also gay—not surprising, but delightful none-the-less—just made this a big old gay cupcake of a book.
It was the perfect buttercream confection that I had hoped Queerly Beloved would be.
There was depth to the story as well, though. There were three subplots that stand out in that respect. One, our MC’s burgeoning boyfriend has a complicated, controlling relationship with his father, a mold that he is keen to break out of. Second, there is a prominent secondary character living with decades-old grief who might possibly want a second act. And finally, our MC, Wren, continues to struggle with the finer boundaries of his own queerness. He thought that coming out would be enough…but life is rarely that simple. All of those scenarios are dealt with with kindness and sensitivity, and the demi-sexual rep is heartening.
There is no steam in the story at all. I get that that makes it both more enticing to some and less enticing to others, but for the story that it is, I think it was the right choice.
The only thing that I wanted and didn’t get from the story was a clearer picture of where our MCs are at the end. It’s kind of obvious that they are headed for that HEA, but with no clear epilogue—a cheat that I will admit I’m kind of addicted to—we really have to settle for a HFN with serious overtones of more. And again, for this story, that was surprisingly OK.