REVIEW: Be With Me by J. Lynn
Dear J. Lynn,
I have enjoyed Wait for You (reviewed here at DA by Dabney) both in print and on audio so when I realised the next book in the series was due out, I asked Jane if she was able to get me a review copy. Happily, she was and so here I am.
**Warning: Mild spoilers for Wait for You follow**
I think this book can be read as a stand alone novel. Cam and Avery (Theresa’s brother and his girlfriend) were the main characters of the first book and they appear frequently here but not in an intrusive way. Those who read the first book will know that Cam had to stay home from college for a year after an incident where he was charged with a serious assault. He had to do regular anger management classes and community service and was lucky to stay out of jail. The man/boy he assaulted was, at the time, Theresa’s boyfriend Jeremy. Jeremy had been physically, mentally and emotionally abusive to Theresa, and after finding out, Cam lost his head and beat him to a pulp for it. Those events are alluded to in the story but it’s not set out as clearly as in the earlier book.
Theresa (whom Jase calls Tess) is the heroine of Be With Me. A lot has happened since she was the 16 year old girl who was beat up by her boyfriend but she still feels stupid and ashamed for being silent so long about what Jeremy was doing and she feels guilty because of the trouble Cam got into about it. Jase Winstead is a good friend of Cam’s and when Cam was at rock bottom, at home and working his way quickly through his father’s stock of Scotch, Jase came to visit to try and help him out of the hole. After that Jase came to visit regularly and he and Tess became good friends, emailing and texting each other in between. Tess had a huge crush on Jase but it wasn’t until a year before this book starts when Tess was almost 18 that Jase kissed her. After that, he basically apologised and ran away and their contact stopped.
Tess is a talented dancer and has won a scholarship to the Joffrey School of Ballet. Unfortunately, she injured her knee (blown ACL joint) and is sidelined from dancing for the time being. As she can’t dance, she cannot take up her scholarship (they are holding it for her if she is fit enough to return to dancing) and so she enrols in the college Cam, Avery and Jase go to, to study early education – her Plan B if dancing doesn’t work out.
She and Jase share a Music Appreciation class and the chemistry between them is off the charts. Jase confuses Tess by flirting outrageously and there is even some kissing and a bit of groping but every time he backs off once the heat of passion has cooled and tells her they cannot be together because: reasons. One of those reasons relates to his younger brother, Jack, to whom he feels a great responsibility (the reasons for which quickly become clear (I guessed. I was right) but which I won’t reveal here. Suffer) and because Tess is destined to leave to attend the Joffrey School and another part is because Cam will kill him if he messes with his best friend’s little sister.
Jase is a prime specimen of manhood according to most of the girls (and some of the guys) on campus and he is a regular topic of conversation.
She laughed when my eyes widened. “Come on, Jase has this . . . I don’t know, this intensity about him. Like he’d be the kind of guy who fucks you and changes your life.”
“Fucks you and changes your life?” I repeated dumbly. The few times I had sex hadn’t been that impressive. “That is some serious penis skills.”
Tess is sharing a college dorm room with Debbie, a Junior. Debbie is dating Erik, a guy from Jase’s fraternity and who is a total dick. Tess recognises certain signs in Erik’s behaviour and is concerned that Debbie is being abused by him. It does take her a little while to work up the courage to speak to Debbie about it – but partly this was because Debbie is often in Erik’s company and this makes it difficult for Tess to confront her about it. However, if there’s one lesson that Tess learned after her experiences with Jeremy, it is that silence can be dangerous. I didn’t feel it was dragged out or that Tess was irresponsible in the time it took for her to speak to Debbie and when she first raises it, Debbie denies it ever happened, makes excuses for Eric and leaves.
When Tess’s knee isn’t healing as it needs to for her to resume dancing as anticipated, it is Jase who is there to comfort her. Sick of trying to force himself away from Tess, Jase admits that he cannot push aside his feelings for her and that he wants them to be together. Some of the push/pull of the beginning was a bit frustrating but there was enough going on to make it understandable too and I wanted them to be together. They made such a good pair. What I really liked was that Tess wasn’t a doormat. She stood up for herself, was brave and took emotional risks (but not stupid ones) and she didn’t put up with Jase’s bullshit.
Brakes squealed as the car screeched to a halt beside me, and I was suddenly staring at Jase’s face through the open passenger window. His eyes were shadowed, but his lips were pressed into a tight, furious thin line. “I’ve been calling you.”
I didn’t have a response to that which didn’t include fuck off.
The first person (past tense) tone of the book, told entirely from Tess’s POV felt appropriately youthful (she is nearly 19 now) and there was self-deprecating (but not self-effacing) humour threaded throughout the narrative.
I immediately started working up excuses. I’d been drinking. And I was buzzing. I hadn’t eaten much today. Maybe I had diabetes and was prone to random acts of head. Oh yeah, that sounded believable. Must write that one down for later.
I have no clue what diabetes (which is a very serious disease) and blow jobs have to do with one another but it sounded like the desperate excuse a nearly 19 year old might come up with in her head and I wasn’t offended by it but YMMV.
Jase is very sweet and attentive and one of the ways he courts her is to bring her cupcakes just about every day (a man after my own heart). They share the cake and it becomes a kind of barometer in their relationship. The day he doesn’t have a pink pastry box is not a good sign, the day he shows up with one unexpectedly after things had fallen apart is the opposite. It is also clear that Tess means more to Jase than any of the random hookups he had had before and he wants everyone to know it too.
Jase rested his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. His warm breath danced over my lips. “I want to take you out on a date. I want to take you horseback riding. I want to tell your brother. I want to take you home to my parents and introduce you as my girlfriend. I want to prove this means more to me. I want to do this the right way.”
While I thought it was kind of sweet that he wanted to wait to have penis-in-vagina sex rather than just getting busy (I got this was about him feeling he needed to demonstrate she was different), I was annoyed by the way the narrative seemed to indicate that they hadn’t had sex until his penis had been in her vagina. Honey, if he’s blown a load down your throat and you’ve come all over his face, you’ve had sex. PiV sex is a different kind of sex but I don’t accept it is more intimate or more valid than other kinds of sex. (And, didn’t we learn a lesson about that from Bill Clinton?).
I enjoyed the banter between Jase and Tess. Jase is very charming and flirty and Tess is sometimes embarrassed but always amused by the things he comes out with.
“Ouch.” He rubbed the spot. “Does it disturb you that I’m kind of getting turned on right now?”
I shook my head. “Seriously?”
“Maybe?” he murmured, dipping his head and causing the ends sticking out from under the skullcap to sway. “I’m pretty erect right now to be honest.”
“Oh my God . . .” I rubbed my hand over my hot cheek. “Okay. Back to the [redacted]. When did he tell you?”
“About a month ago. Want to smack me again? You could try my ass. I’ll probably like that.”
I stared at him.
I would have liked to have a little more of Tess and Jase together happily before things turned to custard. There was a part in the story where Jase says that even though they’ve known each other for a long time they don’t really know each other and they were just beginning to do that. I thought that was lovely. Except then they didn’t really seem to get to know one another before the L word was rolled out.
I did laugh at Cam’s reaction to finding out Jase and Tess were dating.
“My brother stared at me like I’d told him I was now dating his pet turtle.”
One of the themes of this book is domestic abuse and overall, I thought the message was fairly healthy. I’m fortunate not to have been in such a relationship but there are other things from my life which I was not happy about at the time/proud of/made me feel stupid so I could definitely relate to the way Tess eventually resolved things in her own mind.
And maybe . . . just maybe it had to do with Jeremy and the abusive relationship I’d been a part of, that was a part of me, and I finally fully understood that it would always be there with me, but it didn’t make me who I was today. It shaped me, but it wasn’t me.
I’d like to say something about this:
Jase started to ease himself between my thighs, but stopped. “Shit. I don’t have a condom.”
I placed a hand on his cheek. “You know I’m on the pill and you’re the only person I’ve been with since, well, since like forever.”
“I haven’t been with anyone else in a long time. I’m clean and I’ll pull out just in case.”
Dudes – this is not safe sex. And not having been with someone for “forever” doesn’t magically make you STD-free like if you go three years without a speeding ticket you get all your demerit points back. There were a lot of things done well but this disappointed me.
I enjoyed Be With Me very much. I thought the ending was a little drawn out, there were some things which felt a bit rushed and others a little underdone, a couple of word choices that didn’t work for me (“he sliced her open with his tongue”). But Jase was indeed a charmer and Tess was strong and brave and generally awesome. It was hard to decide between a B+ and a B but in the end I felt it was just shy of the higher grade so I give Be With Me a (very solid) B.