Today I’m reviewing The Way You Are by L.J Mile. If you’ll recall, I bought this book during a Friday Five Challenge some weeks ago. I was rather miffed at the time that I couldn’t find any gay romance novels with BBM (Big Beautiful Men) in them, and someone rightly pointed out that maybe that is a really narrow niche market, and I guess it must be since the books just don’t exist. Another friend pointed out that it may be construed that I’m talking about bears, but I’m not talking about hairy muscled guys, I’m talking about fluffy guys.
Let’s start in the usual way, with the blurb. This book is short coming in at 141 pages. Also, I love the artwork for the cover.
By the time he reaches college, Robert is an expert at hiding his feelings—with a few side effects. If he has a little attraction towards boys now and again, he can bury it with a candy bar and go on living the life his parents want for him. The only thing he never expected was that he’d meet someone who would like him just as he was, flaws and all. Now his emotional armor has stopped working and he’ll be forced to decide which life he wants for himself.
Warning: Anyone who has ever had food issues or long standing weight issues (in either direction—over or under) will cry when you read this book, at least once. You’ll feel like shit. For real. It’s still a good book though, I promise.
The characters in this book are well rounded. You believe they’re real people. Truly you do. I didn’t question the nut job parents of Robbie’s for a second, even though they were over the top, because I know those people. I grew up deep in the heart of the bible belt and for everyone who lived in a progressive area that reads this book and chuckles at the crazy…well, the struggle is real.
Also, this book takes a realistic look at what it’s like to be an overweight person in high school, which I enjoyed, in that way that it hurts to read the words but is validating to see them in print. A girl who is set up with Robbie has never been to a dance and wants to go so badly she’ll take anyone with her to get there. Yes…that’s a legitimate feeling. I had a weight issue when I was younger, the issue being more that I didn’t own that shit then the way I should have (I wasn’t that overweight, just shy), but I felt the same way these characters did. High school is hard, and sucks, and sometimes we carry around those stupid, childish scars forever.
Stories like this are a way of hauling those skeletons out of the closet, examining them, and then when you’re done maybe you have one or two less to stow away again because you realize how much they just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
The Unusual (In a Good Way):
Fat sex. We never see it. We never read it. As far as most people are concerned people over 250 pounds (who aren’t pro-athletes and all muscle) just exist in an a-sexual state where they have no sexual desires and can’t possibly be someone’s perfect man. Well, this book roundly gives that notion the finger and does it in such a way that I was quite pleased to be reading about the love making between Pete and Robbie. Also, these sex scenes, more emotions centric, were realistic in what a person of Robbie’s size would be able to physically do, which I give many props to the author for.
Binge eating: we never see that in gay romance. Gay romance authors and readers as a group are angst whores. I mean, not everyone is, but a lot of us are. Maybe it’s just a broad “romance reader/writer” thing. We like to read about people who are injured, flawed, fucked in the head, and the people who help heal them, fix them (Ha!), and love them all better. We just fucking do. I’ve embraced it. BUT, as many books as I’ve seen where characters hurt themselves by NOT eating (which usually just makes for a bony but still HOT lover on the romance cover) I’ve never seen the opposite tackled by a book. Emotional overeating, I would estimate, might actually be more common than starving yourself because why? Eating makes you feel good (even though overeating hurts) and trips the pleasure centers in our brain and under eating hurts—though there’s an argument that the emptiness can be addicting as well as give energy surges during the beginning. Both will destroy your health and heart if they go to extremes and are unchecked. The human body isn’t built to survive on extremes. L.J. Miles creates a horrible, terrible picture with Robbie’s binges. Something that should actually be somewhat disgusting, but just makes me hurt deep inside for this character. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there to some extent—fought my own food fight in the past—but this book made me hurt in the most unusual way.
The Maybe Bad:
Tropes. This book was soooooo full of tropes. The parents who hate their gay son. Check. The fat kid who thinks no one can love him. Check. The pure hearted boy who DOES in fact love the fat kid, not in spite of his body but because he’s a chubby chaser. Okay, that’s not really a trope, but someone loving our imperfect hero in spite of his flaws was. So, there’s that. Tropes don’t always bother me, but they lend a certain amount of predictability to a piece, or can, if handled poorly.
Another thing that may be singular to me that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy was that Pete IS, in fact, a chubby chaser. He doesn’t want Robbie to lose weight. We have a lot of “embracing you the way you are” here, but it almost seems like if Robbie decided to lose a lot of weight Pete might not want to be with him. I know there’s a lot of debate about health vs. happiness, and a lot of people say you can’t ever be as healthy at a higher weight as you can when you’re skinny, but that’s not what this is about. This actually goes to the core of the relationship between the main characters and makes me feel like even though Pete stuck through this whole horrid host of events with Robbie maybe he’s a little more focused on his cock than Robbie is with their relationship. Also, Robbie loves Pete beyond reason, but he’s the only person to ever make Robbie feel human. What if he and Pete actually aren’t that great for each other? In real life those sorts of “first blush” relationships often die a slow death. There’s an epilogue to the story that suggests that won’t happen in this instance, but it was all something I thought about as I was reading.
Lastly, this book should have been twice as long. We only get Robbie’s perspective during this story. It’s rare in the M/M romance category that we get a story written from only one perspective and this is one where I’d have dearly liked to know what was going through the other person’s head. Pete, pete, pete…what were you thinking? I guess I’ll never know.
Please, do give this book a chance. It’s angsty and trope riddled, and Pete is a little Marty Sue-ish, but I’m not sure I’ve read anything this truly sweet in a while.
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