Dear Ms. Mitchell
Joan: We all know how much I adore your books (well, not all of them, perhaps). This one was a departure for you, in that it was a paranormal and much of the plot — and the emotional energy — was focused on the resolution of the ghost story rather than on the relationship. That said, the relationship was well done, with an HFN that I very much enjoyed and a unique “I love you” revelation at the very end.
Sunita: I’ve just started reading m/m in the last couple of months and given how much I’m enjoying it, I’m really annoyed at how long it took me. The good news is, I get to read a lot to catch up. Your books have received good reviews and word of mouth, and this story is set on a college campus and sports figures strongly, which are two of my favorite contexts. When Joan/Sarah suggested a joint review, I jumped at the opportunity.
Joan: John is a former Olympic diver (double gold winner) who hit his head on a practice dive 6 weeks before his second Olympics and is now brain-damaged, unable ever to dive again. Not only does he have debilitating vertigo and balance issues, he is suddenly synaesthetic (he hears in colors) and he sees kaleidescopes of colors over everyone’s heads. After spending almost his whole life consumed by the demands of competitive sports, he has to figure out what to do instead and has very little experience to guide him. John enrolls in college as a 22 year old freshman, a virgin, and is unsure how to make friends with people outside the diving world. He accidentally stumbles into a frat party and meets Mason, who is far more experienced at life, sex, and college, but who has his own life-changing events to cope with in that he’s still trying to deal with the accidental death of the love of his life. Mason takes John home…and passes out, quite literally, on his dick.
I think this book rewarded a one-sitting read. I was distracted by travel at the beginning and lost a little bit of interest, but when I was able to sit down and just read the last two thirds of it in one sitting, it was wonderful: emotional and well-balanced, with great sex and a strong combination of plot elements. (Also, for what it’s worth, I have been fascinated with synaesthesia as long as I’ve known about it, so part of the joy of this book was you bringing it to life for me.)
Part of my issue maintaining focus, however, was that the first third is very episodic because Mason and John do not hit it off immediately for obvious reasons (passing out during a blowjob is not a good relationship starter, after all). They play a kind of a game of meeting again and trying out the relationship thing, or at least the sex thing, but then Mason (usually) ends up an emotional basket case and is enough of a jerk to make John run screaming. The thing that keeps bringing them back together is Mason’s dead lover, Alex, because it turns out that the colors John can see are, in fact, auras, and the problem with Mason’s aura is that Alex is intertwined in it, basically haunting Mason.
So while John is trying to deal with realizing that he can see and, eventually, effect people’s moods, he is also trying to figure out life outside of 12-hour-a-day practices, and is stumbling into a relationship with Mason, trying to figure out if he’s just a conduit to what Mason really wants: Alex. Mason, on the other hand, is trying to figure out how to live without Alex, trying to live with survivor guilt, and trying to figure out how to let Alex go. He’s never, however, confused about how much he likes John for himself.
Sunita: I was able to make time to read this in one day, and I found myself swept up in the story. I liked the meet-not-so-cute setup at the beginning, and your writing drew me in immediately. The college atmosphere, especially the relationships between the various students and the dorm and house settings, felt very true to life. Where Joan was distracted, I enjoyed the time John and Mason were apart because it established both of their lives as individuals. Some readers find those sections take away from the romance, but I like them because I like seeing who the characters are before they become a couple. I also appreciated that Mason had authentic and unattractive ways of dealing with his loss and that John and Mason’s relationship trajectory wasn’t entirely predictable, but their attraction to and desire for each other was clear. I found the Alex bits less interesting, but that’s partly because I’m not that fond of paranormal elements. But it definitely fit into what you were doing with the storyline, and I liked the way the Alex story was integrated with John’s socialization into normal life.
Joan: As always, you do a brilliant job with characterization. There are a lot of characters in a 180 page book, but I never got them confused. Part of that might be because John’s handy colorization of everyone made it easy to figure out who was who, but mostly it’s your incredibly ability to write real people with real personalities and problems.
Sunita: I completely agree; your ability to bring characters to life and to make them realistic and interesting is really impressive. I paid less attention to the colors and still didn’t have any trouble keeping the characters separate. I never even noticed how many there were! I think that’s because while some of them were types, they weren’t cartoons, so they retained individuality for me. John and Mason were especially well written, but even the briefer characterizations had depth. And when they didn’t (like the twins), it was clearly intentional (and in the case of the twins, hilarious). I found Lizzy to be somewhat less convincing as a character, because her behavior seemed a little too perfect for what the story needed (even when she was angry), but that was a minor niggle.
Joan: The ending seemed rushed to me. John was SO concerned about being able to see and affect people’s emotions…and then he wasn’t. Alex was gone…and then he wasn’t. I don’t know if the perceived loose ends were serial bait or just a rushed ending, but the emotional intensity seemed abruptly foreshortened. Except the sex was hot, so I didn’t really mind too much. And as I said, I loved the way you had the characters say “I love you.”
Sunita: I guess I understand why you ended it the way you did, and your choice of the two attempts that Mason makes to give John something that can be as good as diving are imaginative. And the sex is really good! But I would have liked to see a bit more of them together in everyday life, because for me a big part of the book was watching John make the transition from Olympic hero to normal person. I wanted to watch him get the normal person HEA/HFN. But even though I didn’t, your writing makes me believe in it.
-Joan/Sarah F and Sunita