Author: J.A. Rock
Publisher: Loose Id
Rating: 4.5 stars
Buy Links: LId and Amazon
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Dresden Marich has failed out of high school three months shy of graduation. He’s infatuated with his online friend, Evan, alienated from his family and former classmates, and still trying to recover from his father’s death six years ago. He’s also keeping a troubling secret about his older brother, Gunner, who is away at boot camp.
Then Dresden meets Caleb, a judgmental environmentalist who’s hardly Dresden’s fantasy come true. But Caleb seems to understand Dresden’s desire for rough sex, big feelings, and, ultimately, safety. As Dresden becomes embroiled in a farmers market drama involving Caleb, a couple of bullying tomato enthusiasts, and a gang of vigilante vegans, he discovers he might be willing to trade a fantasy relationship with Evan for a shot at something real with Caleb.
But Dresden fears telling quick-to-judge Caleb his secret, and the news that Gunner is coming home sends him fleeing to California for a chance to meet Evan in person and hopefully fall in love. When the encounter doesn’t go as expected, Dresden faces a choice: stay in California and carve out a new life, or take the long road home to his family, Caleb, and a past he must face if he has any hope for a future.
Review: Eighteen year old Dresden Marich is lost. He’s lost in life and often in his own head. He tries to navigate the choppy waters of his life and his own constantly churning thoughts as best he can, but some days it’s hard to just find the quiet long enough to get his feet underneath him and find some direction. When it all becomes too overwhelming, Dresden has a tendency to lash out and break things in his frustration. He wants those big feelings, but at the same time he really doesn’t know what to do with them. Dresden’s mother has tried her best as a single parent after the sudden death of her husband six years ago, but she doesn’t really understand her son and with Dresden’s older brother, Gunner, having even bigger issues, she’s struggling just to cope with everything herself. Especially since Dresden blindsided her with the knowledge of what he had to grow up with from Gunner since their father’s death. Distanced from his previous friends, Dresden’s only real escape from his life is the hope he has built around an online friend, twenty-six year old Evan, for love and a chance at new beginnings in Eureka, California, where Evan lives. That and occasionally cutting are his coping mechanisms.
A trip to the farmers markets ends in a chance encounter with Caleb, a wood recycler who has a stall at the markets, who sits down next to the troubled young man and cares enough to ask him what’s wrong. The two men are deeply drawn to each other. Both are damaged in their own ways, although with Caleb being a few years older, he has come to grips with his baggage a little better than Dresden. As Dresden spends more time with Caleb, it becomes obvious that they are good for each other, but Dresden still struggles to make much sense of the world. The only times he finds some quiet and calmness, even within himself, is when he is with Caleb. However, the news that Gunner is on his way home from military school sends Dreden into a tailspin and running away to California.
Told wholly from Dresden’s POV and in present tense, the reader is given a unique journey into the jumbled thoughts of Dresden’s mind. The use of present tense creates a distance and a surreal feel that keeps the narrative from becoming too confusing as we navigate a world with Dresden that he often finds bewildering and difficult to understand. I really didn’t know what to make of Dresden at first. He’s so completely disengaged from life in a way that seems to come from having no idea what to make of it, so it’s easier to stay on the outsides of it even though he’s so desperate to be right in the thick of it. When he meets Caleb, for the first time, probably since his father died and his life started falling apart, something settles a little within Dresden. Caleb seems to genuinely want to give Dresden what he needs. I suspect Dresden has ADHD, or something close to it, although it’s a hard to really be sure because of the surreal quality the past tense prose lends to the narrative.
Dresden is a truly fascinating character. Right on the cusp of manhood, he has these flashes of amazing, insightful observations and intelligence and in the next breath fails to see beyond his own wants and pain. He is so lost and just crying out for affection and to be understood and accepted. Dresden’s desperate wish to get himself together, to grow up and stop losing control, but his complete uncertainty of where to start or how to even go about doing that, is heartbreaking at times. It isn’t a gloomy book, though. Dresden himself has a sharp sense of humour, as do the crazy vegan trio friends of Caleb’s from the markets, that provide some light-heartedness to the more serious themes of the book. Then there’s Caleb and Dresden. Let me say straight up; this is not a romance. There isn’t a HEA or riding off into the sunset, but there is a definite HFN as Dresden begins to find his place. The relationship that develops between Caleb and Dresden feels so natural and truthful. Amidst all the turmoil in their lives, their growing love is a quiet space. Dresden’s need to feel big lends itself to some mild BDSM and role playing. The first time they attempt a role playing scene was truly adorable, in a weird kind way. They’re completely bumbling their way through a scene, but it becomes so obvious how much Caleb cares for Dresden. There is a scene, where Caleb opens up to Dresden about some of his own issues and Dresden reassures him that all feelings are normal. It is one of the most quietly beautiful and powerful scenes I’ve ever read.
Like Dresden says, people rarely have a sudden, life-changing epiphany that makes them become someone different. Instead, the changes are usually small and almost unnoticeable at the time, until there have been enough of them that the person is still themselves, but at the same time no longer the same as they once were. Dresden’s growth through this book is very much like that. It is restrained and incremental until by the end, he is still himself but also someone different to the unsure teenager he was at the beginning.
Take The Long Way Home tells the story of Dresden’s coming of age beautifully. This book is a real journey, but it’s a subtle one. One you don’t even realise is happening until you get towards the end of it.