Author: Roan Parrish
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Rating: 5 stars
Type: Novel in a Series
Received from Publisher
Blurb: Leo Ware may be young, but he knows what he wants. And what he wants is Will Highland. Snarky, sophisticated, fiercely opinionated Will Highland, who burst into Leo’s unremarkable life like a supernova… and then was gone just as quickly.
For the past miserable year, Leo hasn’t been able to stop thinking about the powerful connection he and Will shared. So, when Leo moves to New York for college, he sweeps back into Will’s life, hopeful that they can pick up where they left off. What begins as a unique friendship soon burns with chemistry they can’t deny… though Will certainly tries.
But Leo longs for more than friendship and hot sex. A romantic to his core, Leo wants passion, love, commitment—everything Will isn’t interested in giving. Will thinks romance is a cheesy fairy tale and love is overrated. He likes his space and he’s happy with things just the way they are, thank you very much. Or is he? Because as he and Leo get more and more tangled up in each other’s lives, Will begins to act like maybe love is something he could feel after all.
Review: This is the third book in what has become one of my favorite series. Strictly speaking, it could be read as a standalone, but I feel strongly that you would be missing out on high quality, evocative reading if you don’t indulge in the first two books. Plus, book one – The Middle of Somewhere – is where the reader first meets Leo and Will, as well as where they first meet one another.
In Where We Left Off, the relationship involving Leo and Will takes center stage. I was extremely eager to read their story, and was consistently stunned and in awe of the achingly poignant journey the author took them on. Roan Parrish possesses an exemplary gift for exploring her characters’ hopes, fears, preconceptions, and expectations. To top it off, she does so while presenting each character as an undeniably unique, raw, and flawed individual. I highlighted countless stunning phrases as her words inspire re-reading, her characters’ revelations imprint themselves on my heart. Every one of her characters presents as distinct and vivid; the common denominator being a compelling – if not necessarily conscious – urge to find a home for their hearts.
This story is told in Leo’s POV. Given Leo’s youth, limited life experiences, and general optimism, this book has a decidedly different feel than the first two in this series. Where Daniel was guarded, Leo is open. Where Colin was fearful, Leo is bold. While Leo is a small-town kid, he does not have a small mind, a small heart or a small sense of bravado. Far from it! When he finally makes his enthusiastic way to New York City to study at NYU, he is out of his element, but hardly overwhelmed. Leo’s confidence serves him well, however it can’t make up for his true naivete, especially when it comes to his desire for a romantic relationship with Will. Will, ten years his senior, ten years more experienced as a New Yorker, ten years more experienced – period. Leo and Will had been corresponding sporadically since meeting in Holiday, Michigan (hometown to both of them). While Will was there visiting his sister, Leo had become smitten. He was determined to follow Will’s footsteps to NYC – and to pursue Will. Leo certainly did have starry-eyed romantic inclinations. Will had a game plan for handling Leo’s advances – mainly a decidedly unromantic, “I’m not looking for a relationship” mantra. Would this be enough to dissuade Leo? Even though Will clearly states his boundaries, as the two men spend more time together, Leo becomes more determined than ever to break through those walls, or at least to take what he can get for now.
A large portion of the first half of the book involves Leo immersing himself in the university experience. His roommate is his polar opposite, he easily becomes close friends with a wide variety of people: a mix of ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, personalities and sexual orientations. Being gay is no big deal at all at NYU – such a relief to Leo, as there was enough other stuff to deal with.
The author delves into explorations, tear downs, build ups and reconstructions of what makes Leo and Will tick. All accomplished without feeling the least bit clichéd or preachy, and while telling a helluva engrossing story. Leo was attracted to Will – as a compelling, cosmopolitan person first of all, and sure, the guy was hot. He knew Will felt some attraction to him, so what could possibly be the problem in hanging out together, dating…seeing where things went? Leo’s first mistake was not taking Will’s true feelings into account. He failed to realize he didn’t actually know Will. Had no idea what had really shaped his life, actions, or beliefs. Will also didn’t know the same information about Leo. They needed to spend time on these things, and Will did keep Leo at arms’ length for some time while they explored the city and hung out together. Leo was gobsmacked when he realized that Will’s striking good looks caused Will more bitterness than joy. Being beautiful and physically desirable surely made life a breeze, right? Well – no. This revelation – along with some details from Will’s upbringing, and his current situation, gave Leo pause. Leo does his best to honor Will’s boundaries, but Will keeps muddying them up. Boy, does he ever! My perspective once I knew more about Will, was that he was protecting his heart. Understandable, yet completely maddening. Leo was young. Leo obviously had stars in his eyes in regard to Will and to romance in general, shouldn’t Will as the older and wiser be taking more care with Leo’s emotions? I was getting perturbed with Will, he was clearly telling Leo one thing with words, but the opposite with his actions. I suppose screaming at my Kindle was part of the author’s plan, I was so emotionally invested in what was going on. Getting upset – yet being able to understand both character’s perspective on events – is such a grand part of reading. Interestingly, Leo ultimately proved to be the wiser of the two, although Will did eventually catch up.
So, what else did I love about this story? The issue of both men’s past and upbringing was hugely important, and while very different on the surface, the results were actually quite similar. How and to whom Will reached out when emotional situations became scarily raw to the bone and the chips were down was a huge tell. The sex in the story was treated beautifully and fittingly. There were no dramatics, no big virginal scene. What was presented, was a flawless and tangible continuance of each guy’s personality. When Will and Leo came together, there was a distinct visceral continuity of their relationship. Pivotal scenes in the story actually involved conversations, not always the clearest, most honest ones, but they were soul-searing. They were the best the guys could do at the time. They pushed each other – often away – in a dance of conscious and subconscious actions. I loved Leo’s friends, and how their frank conversations about Leo being “a romantic” helped him see himself through the eyes of others. Daniel…always Daniel. Hearing him on the phone with Leo was such a kick. Knowing he was able to give advice and be such a good friend to Leo warmed my heart, and made me happy for both of them.
Leo is a character I identified with strongly from the get-go. His passions and emotions were quite direct and transparent. I was rooting for him to stay strong, live, learn and win the love he so earnestly wanted – and deserved. This was a coming of age story for him, and actually, for Will as well. Will, well, he started out as an enigma, to me and to Leo. Thanks to Leo’s persistence, and some of the most gorgeous, frank, gut wrenching writing I’ve had the pleasure to read, I certainly came to understand Will and his guarded ways by the end of the story. I’m not sure understanding him was enough to win me over though. It seems as though Will still has more work to do before he can fully embrace his true self, and before I can fully embrace him – and that’s OK. I felt absolutely content with where the guys were at the close of this story, in fact, Leo himself couldn’t have written a more perfect ending. The work yet to be done, the actual continuation of a relationship after it blossoms – it’s a big part of the magic of one of Roan Parrish’s story. The story she has written here showcases the grit and determination of two people getting to know one another, and in the process, each man truly coming to know himself.
PS> Roan Parrish, I’ve been searching YouTube for that video. What the heck? 😉