Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Abroad: Book One
SERIES: Abroad #1
AUTHOR: Liz Jacobs
PUBLISHER: Brain Mill Press
LENGTH: 372 pages
RELEASE DATE: June 27, 2017
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
He’d started asking himself why so long ago, it felt like a part of him. At thirteen, he had been just as desperate to have the answer as he was now, at twenty. Why me? Why couldn’t I be normal?
He’d run four thousand miles from home, but all he’d done was get closer to the question. Why had he thought England would be neutral ground? If anything, it was like a conductor, and Nick was standing on it, entirely exposed.
Four thousand miles, and nothing was getting easier.
It was getting worse.
For years Nick Melnikov has loved England. Getting a chance to study in London should be the highlight of his life. And it is…except for the fact that be it in England, Michigan, or Russia, Nick is still very much the same person he has always been. Alone, unsure, and desperately wanting to be someone else. Turns out that you can run (or fly) several thousand miles and still find yourself stuck in the same damn place as before. Even as he slowly gets used to the strange food, and even stranger people, he can’t help but feel that his hoped-for journey of self-discovery was a bit of a rip-off (and a terribly expensive one at that). Yet he has to hope that there is something more to be found in England than just a fancy degree.
Going into this book I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. There was quite a bit in the blurb that caught my fancy, but having never read anything by Liz Jacobs before I had no clue if her writing style would work for me. And part of me would have felt downright awful if I didn’t end up liking the book, since my interactions with the author herself have really made me like her as a person. I do try my very hardest to separate the author from their work when I go into a book with the intention of reviewing it, though.
That being said, it just makes me doubly happy when I can say that an awesome person wrote an awesome book and you should go totally check it out.
From what I know about Liz Jacobs, I had a fair bit of certainty that the Jewish and immigrant aspects of this book were going to be handled very well. But not only did these parts of this book feel real, they were also just fun to read about. Not all of the facts behind that part of the story–especially the treatment of Jews in Russia during and after Communism–were fun in and of themselves…but they were incredibly intriguing. It is something I’ve not given a lot of thought to, but I must admit that I am now wanting to learn more about it. It never got preachy or lecture-y, but the way Nick talked about his past in this story was so damn well written that it made me curious. I love when books can do that.
I was also really happy with how the story handled Nick’s issues with being gay. After having to deal with the whole “coming out” issue myself over the last few years I must admit that my tolerance of closeted characters has great increased. While I would happily live in a world where everyone could just be whoever and whatever they are, I know that I am probably never going to be alive long enough to see that. And while this struggle with being true to yourself is hardly an untapped theme in gay romance, I really appreciate it when authors can write characters whose struggles feel organic to who they are, instead of just needed plot points. I truly felt I understood why Nick didn’t want to come out. Not to his family, not to his friends, and not even to himself. It is a fucking scary prospect, having to rewrite your own identity, and Nick’s fears and stumbles along the way to self-realization came across as honest and relatable.
That is pretty much how I feel about the romance here as well. I have always been a huge fan of the slow-burn in romance stories. I have a hard time buying insta-love in almost all its forms. Plus, man, I just love a book of pining and sad puppy-dog eyes. So the long wait to see Nick and Dex Cartwell finally get their shit together was a real pleasure for me. And because of all the issues the two of them have in their pasts, I think all the waiting and pining was kinda necessary. Especially on Nick’s side. By the time they got together I bought everything about them as a couple. I didn’t need the book to explicitly state their love because it was damn obvious on the page. The telling here is great, because I think they both need to hear it, but sometimes it feels like authors just want us to take it on faith that the love is there, instead of actually taking the time to show us. I need the showing, though.
I knew going in that there were a few scenes that involve a f/f romance and, I won’t lie, I was worried how those would affect my enjoyment of the story. Sex and the female body can sometimes be a huge trigger for me, so I typically just avoid it to be safe. But for some reason, for like the last couple weeks it really hasn’t been an issue, so I thought this would be the perfect time to read this book. And I’m really glad I did give it a chance. Not only did those scenes not bother me, they ended up being like really good. They’re kind of spoilery, so I won’t go into much detail, but I found myself enjoying the moments we got to spend with this character. Like with Nick, I think she was very well written, and the things that happen and the things she chooses to do in this book felt natural to who she was. I’m really glad my issues did not get in the way of getting to know her and her story.
As far as debut books go, you really can’t get much better than this. I have a few minor quibbles with the pacing in some areas, and I would have loved to have spent a few more chapters getting to know more about Dex, but overall this was a bloody brilliant book. The writing was incredibly well down, and all the characters felt completely realized. And yes, my god do I want to read a book about Jonny and Lance. Here’s hoping that Liz Jacobs gives us book two sometime in the near future.