Sometimes the best thing you can get for Christmas is knowing what you really want.
Rusty Baker is a blond, rich, entitled football player in a high school full of them—just the type of oblivious jock all the bullied kids hate. And he might have stayed that way, except he develops a friendship with out-and-proud Oliver Campbell from the wrong side of the tracks. Rusty thinks the friendship is just pity—Oliver is very bright, and Rusty is very not—but then Oliver kisses him goodbye when Rusty leaves for college, and Rusty is forced to rethink everything he knows about himself.
But even Rusty’s newfound awareness can’t help him survive a semester at Berkeley. He returns home for Thanksgiving break clinging to the one thing he knows to be true: Oliver Campbell is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
Rusty’s parents disagree, and Rusty finds himself homeless for the holidays. Oliver may not have much money, but he’s got something Rusty has never known: true family. With their help and Oliver’s love, Rusty comes to realize that he may have failed college, but he’ll pass real life with flying rainbow colors.
Before I read this book I had avoided Amy Lane, or at least most of her back list for years, due to the fact that she is known as the queen of angst. So I was hesitant picking up this book both because of that, but also because of the fact that the characters are very young. I do not normally read YA for two reasons:
1) I like my sex on page and plentiful (yes, yes, I know I am an old man-on-man loving pervert!) 2) I need a HEA like a junkie needs a fix, and HEA between such young characters are completely unbelievable to me!
In spite of this, I decided to pick it up anyway, because I love a good christmas story and some of the proceeds went to charity. And boy was I ever happy I did!
Because since then, this book has become a favorite re-read and when the audio came out I purchased that too and have re-listened so many times it’s almost embarrassing to admit!
This story is wonderful! It is emotional, but not too angsty, it is sweet and cuddly and tugs at the heartstrings. It made me laugh and get teary-eyed. It isn’t perfect no, but since I re-read and re-listen continually, there is no way around throwing all the stars in the world after this book.
Rusty is a jock in his senior year in high school, he is a privileged white boy, from a high end neighbourhood with well-to-do parents and a prosperous future to look forward to, including Berkley pre-law after graduation. Although he could fit into every stereotype of dumb jock, he is sweet, polite, wholesome and slightly naïve. He is not the smartest of people, but he tries so hard and he has the biggest heart.
When Oliver enters his class in senior year, he is smitten instantly. Fascinated with the exotic Oliver. Oliver is everything Rusty is not. He is small, brown, from a working class Hispanic background, very secure in who he is – out and proud – and so very smart, that Rusty can hardly keep up.
The two start an unlikely friendship which slowly melts into more, without Rusty being aware of this fact. After graduation Berkley looms, a future Rusty knows he is not ready for, not smart enough for and really not something he wants. But college is a privilege, as he has realized after meeting Oliver, and he knows there is no way around it. So off to Berkley he must go, leaving Oliver behind.
The summer leading up to college holds several revelations for Rusty. One being the months he spends working construction for Olivers father. He finds something he enjoys, loves even, and something he is good at! The other being that on the eve of him leaving, Oliver kisses him.
Both of these revelations needs time to settle in Rusty before he can realize who he is and who he wants to be. But they are his defining moments, even if he doesn’t realize it himself at the time.
There is a host of side characters in this book: Oliver’s big loving latino family, Rusty’s conservative upper class parents, his rebellious younger sister, the housekeeper, Rusty’s college roommate Rex, college professors and guidance counselors, Rusty’s ex-girlfriend and high school friends. And all of them, in some way, shape or form end up being instrumental to pushing Rusty into the place he is meant to be.
This is more of a coming of age story than it is a Christmas story, but it does revolve around Oliver and Rusty’s first Christmas together, so in a way the holiday tag is earned, but it is not a story I would only re-read at Christmas time by any means.
Oliver and Rusty are wonderful together, they both have issues and insecurities and push each other at times, but behind it all there is love and a sense of heart and home. This sense of home was so strong that I actually believed in the happy ending between these very young boys, even before the epilogue gave me a glimpse into the future.
I will warmly recommend this story to anyone wanting a warm and emotional feel good story. But beware that you will feel the urge to hug your e-reader close after finishing.
Overall Impression: 6 out of 5 stars