*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has in no way influenced my review.*
I’ve sat here for a while just trying to figure out how to start this because this is one of those books that’s just… difficult to review.
I’ve noticed a lot of reviewers describe this as a mindf*ck type of book, but it really doesn’t fit my definition of that word. It was definitely Twilight Zone-esque, but it was never confusing or shocking to me. And though I still wanted to know the details and reasons and full story behind it, it was obvious to me early on what the general explanation was. That’s not to say the story was predictable, I still didn’t know how it would end, just that for me the enjoyment of this book didn’t lie in any shocking twistiness.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This was a good book with a good story. I was invested while reading. The quaint little 1950s town made for a unique setting, at least for me. And though Mike could be painfully shy and tongue-tied, making Sean supply the conversation while he mostly just responded with, “Yeah,” he and Sean were cute together. I was rooting for them the same as the rest of the townsfolk. So yeah, this was sweet and romantic as you would expect from the blurb and the cover…
…but I feel like it was also kind of dark, and that’s coming from me. It wasn’t violent or gruesome or gritty, but it left me feeling far more unsure and unsettled than probably any other book I’ve ever read.
*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT (seriously, these are my thoughts about the ending, and I urge you not to read this unless you’ve already finished the book or don’t plan on reading it)* At least if a character dies, for example, it’s an unhappy ending but they move on to the afterlife or they go to a better place or they stop existing and therefore stop suffering or whatever it is that you believe. And as hard and sad as it may be, the remaining characters will eventually start to heal and move on. But in this case, Mike has to make friends with the people in Amorea and start a relationship with Sean all over again. He already did it once, he still remembers it, but none of them do, and so he has to spend the rest of his life having all these memories with people that they don’t have with him. He remembers his first kiss with Sean, but Sean doesn’t. He remembers that day on the dock, but Sean doesn’t. He remembers three years worth of moments of getting to know each other, but Sean doesn’t. And that would be torture. I can’t imagine much that would be worse than that, to be honest. But the terrible thing is, that probably was in fact the better option, despite how torturous it would be. So on the one hand, the book was tragic and sad because poor Greg had a terrible life that, for all intents and purposes, ended in a terrible way for reasons that weren’t even his fault. And then, when he woke up, he was disfigured and alone and miserable. And going back into Amorea, he now knows that it isn’t real and has to do everything over again with no one remembering him. But on the other hand, Greg/Mike seems happy to do it all again as long as he gets to be with Sean. That’s how much he loves Sean, so much that he’s literally willing to do anything to be with him, which is sweet. And now he gets to live the remainder of his life somewhere where he’s healthy and free, and he gets to be with the only person he’s ever loved. If you look at it that way, it’s actually a happy and romantic ending. So it’s not like I don’t understand his reasons for going back, but honestly I just can’t imagine being happy in either situation. But this isn’t my story, it’s Mike’s, so I guess if he’s happy… *END SPOILER ALERT*
Feeling unsure and unsettled is not necessarily a bad thing though. It made me feel something, and that’s good.
I also found the book to be really thought-provoking. Not in a lessons/morals kind of way though. There was nothing preachy about this book. But it still made me think a lot, about things like the way life spirals downward sometimes, and how it’s so easy to state a solution when looking in from the outside but so much more complicated when you’re on the inside, and how maybe I’m still too judgmental despite how hard I try not to be because maybe even the people who are making bad choices, who have willfully chosen to do things that ruined their lives, had reasons and just got caught in that spiral and might be good people underneath it all if only things had happened differently.
*sigh* I think this has become less of a review and more of a philosophical discussion at this point, but I can’t help it, that’s how this book has made me feel and what it’s made me think.
BUT you may take something completely different away from this book than I did. This isn’t a cut-and-dry, black-and-white type of thing. I can see people having all different sorts of reactions to it, including both positive and negative emotions, maybe even at the same time. It all depends on how you look at things.
So overall I enjoyed the love story between the characters, I loved how thought-provoking the book was, and I thought the whole thing was well-written, but it also made me feel kind of emotionally confused, and I think it’s the kind of book that’s really going to be experienced differently by different people.
In the small mountain town of Amorea, it’s stretching toward autumn of 1954. The memories of a world at war are fading in the face of a prosperous future. Doors are left unlocked at night, and neighbors are always there to give each other a helping hand.
The people here know certain things as fact:
Amorea is the best little town there is.
The only good Commie is a dead Commie.
The Women’s Club of Amorea runs the town with an immaculately gloved fist.
And bookstore owner Mike Frazier loves that boy down at the diner, Sean Mellgard. Why they haven’t gotten their acts together is anybody’s guess. It may be the world’s longest courtship, but no one can deny the way they look at each other.
Slow and steady wins the race, or so they say.
But something’s wrong with Mike. He hears voices in his house late at night. There are shadows crawling along the walls, and great clouds of birds overhead that only he can see.
Something’s happening in Amorea. And Mike will do whatever he can to keep the man he loves.