As I Am (All Saints #3)

Author: A.M. Arthur

Publisher: Carina Press

Rating: 4.5 stars

Buy Links: Carina & Amazon

Type: Novel in a Series

Received from Publisher

Blurb:  Will Madden is healing.

Thanks to therapy and a growing support system, he’s taking baby steps into a promising future. One of those steps leads him to an online chat room, where he quickly bonds with fellow PTSD sufferer Taz Zachary.

Despite their virtual connection, Taz is initially freaked out at the idea of meeting Will face-to-face. A sexual relationship may be the last thing on his mind, but his craving for human interaction—and more of the way Will makes him laugh—gives him the courage he needs to take the next step.

In person, the chemistry between them is undeniable. But Will is hurt when Taz doesn’t seem to be in any rush to get him into bed. Still, acceptance, love and happiness all seem within reach for the first time in forever—until demons from the past threaten the future they both finally believe they deserve.

Review:  This is the third book in AM Arthur’s outstanding All Saints series. It can definitely be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone, however, I absolutely recommend reading and enjoying the previous two books first. In fact, this story has beginnings in the author’s Getting It Right, and dovetails with characters from that series (Restoration) as well as her Belonging series. Be aware that sexual abuse, drug use, and PTSD are major components of the story. While As I Am contains reference to the characters’ histories with such topics, it concentrates on two young men emerging from the depths of their darkness. So, take heart. Courage, guidance, healing and love are at the forefront here.

Nineteen-year- old Will has a history of sexual abuse; facilitated by a parent no less. Oh the fury this inspired in me and others in Will’s life. Severe anxiety and panic attacks have resulted in Will living on disability in a group home under the watchful eye of the ever-supportive Gloria. Will had been through horrific experiences yet possessed a base desire to rise up and find something positive in life. I appreciated this as well as the fact that he now had adults in his life who cared, most prominently his psychiatrist, Dr. Taggert. Will’s part-time volunteer work exposed him to others who helped people in need, including the staff at the All Saints center – a shelter for LGBTQ youth. Despite his past and his panic attacks, Will sought grounding via a series of hook ups – something he agreed with Dr. Taggert were not conducive to turning his life around, so he halted them. Will’s desire for sex perplexed me, given his history. The author does a bang-up job of explaining Will’s complex persona through his sessions with Dr. Taggert.

Chat rooms proved a godsend for Will. And this time he was not cruising for sex. On the Internet he didn’t need to be face-to-face while meeting people, they could talk and feel each other out, without even needing to share a photo. What a great thing for someone with panic attacks. In the chatroom Will hit it off with Taz, another young man who also suffered from panic attacks and PTSD, as well as near agorophobia. These two really understood each other. Will convinces Taz to meet in person and what transpires from there is an utterly inspiring exploration of two damaged souls finding strength in each other. Will and Taz learn to trust and explore, not only their burgeoning attraction to each other, but the world around them.

The story starts on a rather clinical note, and builds carefully as the reader really gets a chance to understand what makes Will tick – what has made him who he is at this point. I found this to be a beautiful approach. Will’s issues were nothing that were going to be resolved quickly or miraculously. Will is definitely a character that I felt as though I were following around; ready to catch him if he fell while also cheering on his victories, no matter how small. Taz proved no different! I’m purposely not going to outline what Taz’s specifics background is, I feel the reader should discover and explore this on the same timeline as Will does. The story is told in third person, so the reader knows exactly what is going on in both Taz and Will’s heads.

As Will and Taz navigated their new friendship, it steadily – and quickly – turned to deeper feelings and a romantic connection. Every bit of interaction between these two felt completely authentic to me: two steps forward one step back, learning their way around one another’s quirks, taking kindness at face value and not being suspicious, knowing they could mess up and still be loved.

The running thread of a criminal investigation involving people who had contributed to Will’s abuse adds solid elements of tension, uncertainty and surprise to the story.

The icing on this story is how the author folds in favorite characters from her Belonging series. If you are fans, you will cheer at their inclusion and the roles they play in bolstering Will and Taz. You will also cheer at a particularly romantic moment between two of them. Even if you are not already familiar with these characters from Arthur’s other stories, it is evident that they all have overcome burdens of their own and genuinely want to befriend and help Will and Taz. I’m sure you’ll cheer too!

Thank you AM Arthur for taking it to heart when fans asked you: “Whatever happened to Will?” You’ve given us the answer in a moving story that combines pain, grit, hope, bravery, friendship and love.

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