REVIEW: Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino
Dear Ms. Tenino.
I loved this book. Just loved it. I read it in one sitting, finally going to sleep at 3am on Friday night, damn you. In retrospect, it has flaws, but I didn’t notice them as I was reading.
Brad is a football player and in a frat. I really REALLY love the way the book starts:
One of Brad’s frat brothers bent over naked in the locker room showers early one Thursday morning, and he thought, “I’d tap that.”
He stood there frozen, skin stinging from the pelletized water, soap suds streaming down his chest while his world made a . . . What did they call that? Paradigm shift.
Dammit, dammit, dammit. He’d been trying to avoid this. Admitting it to himself. Consciously. His subconscious had been admitting it for a while in his sleep. Emitting it.
Brad flicked another quick look at Collin. Yeah, he still had a delectable ass. Dammit.
Brad had spent years trying to avoid the “G” word, but denial was suddenly circling the drain. He stared at the water pouring down at his feet, and thought about hanging on to the security that came with telling himself he wasn’t into guys. But it was pointless, right? It wasn’t going to go away. Trying not to know it now was like trying to make the soap suds go back in the bar.
Brad gets to the point where he just wants to figure it out, get it right for once. So he accepts that he’s gay and starts chasing his delectable history TA, Sebastian. Now, this is where I start getting really picky — do TAs just grade papers? Maybe in some schools? Are you going to have a Ph.D. student at a College? I don’t think so. And no one, NO ONE *EVER* enjoys grading. Ever. Or if they do, I wish they’d come and grade mine, dammit.
But details about academic life aside, Sebastian is hot, Brad’s hooked, and he has to work up the courage to come on to Sebastian. This takes a full quarter of the book, but I wasn’t at all bored. During that time, Brad comes out to his completely accepting family, figured out that despite his size and looks, he’s probably a bottom, comes out to an ex-girlfriend, plagiarizes a paper to try to catch Sebastian’s attention.
Once Sebastian and Brad get together, the sex is smoking hot, the relationship is interesting, and the humor is just nonstop. That’s the thing about this book — it’s laugh-out-loud funny without trying too hard to be so (and without really being excerpt-able, despite reading through the whole book again to try to find a suitable excerpt ;). Sebastian watches everything with a sort of amused, affectionate disdain, so bits of the book from his perspective were fun. And Brad is just…wonderful. He’s not particularly smart (although he’s not stupid), and watching him figure out how to be gay is just an amazing journey. He’s stubborn and intense and committed to being authentic. SUCH a great character. Just a taste:
On Saturday morning, Brad woke up early and watched Sebastian sleep. He knew it was dorky and he tried to stop, but he couldn’t seem to look away. He’d done it last Saturday, too.
He was lucky. Really fucking lucky. He wanted to just stay here forever. But he had to get back to his room and do some laundry, as well as inventory the damned kitchen at the frat house and get ready for the stupid pledge ceremony.
He sighed. He’d rather be here with his boyfriend. Who seemed to be waking up. Just before he thought Sebastian was going to open his eyes, he rolled over and scooted backward into Sebastian’s body. He didn’t want to get caught staring at the shape of Sebastian’s jaw or his long eyelashes in the sunlight, but he could rub up on him some.
Retrospective niggles (I have no idea why this part of the review came out in bullet format, but it’s better to have it written than to fight it, so here you go):
- Sebastian did not read like a 28 year old. It would have made more sense to me if he’d been doing his M.A. and he were 24 or so. But a 28 year old Ph.D. student seemed a bit more of a stretch to me with the character as written.
- Once the relationship starts, there’s not much narrative tension, except the tension that’s still about Brad figuring out who he is. Which was engaging and fun, don’t get me wrong, but not relationship-focused so much.
- The Black Moment is very slightly contrived and not exceptionally well explained. When Brad and Sebastian fight, I had to read it two or three times to really figure out exactly what was drawing them apart. Once I’d figured it out, I believed in the problem — it was subtle but strong and had been foreshadowed throughout the book. But it took me a while to get there.
- Once they split, there’s a bit too much “gathering of the support network,” as Brad puts it, before they get back together…a few too many conversations with other people before they get together to figure things out together. The book started to seem like an ensemble piece, except the ensemble didn’t really gather at the end, so that was odd.
- And the final scene ends abruptly. We’ve had pages of Brad coming out to his frat, and when he and Sebastian go upstairs…the rest of the house isn’t mentioned again at all. But then, I’m a big believer in epilogues, or slightly more drawn-out endings, post reconciliation. In my opinion, there needed to be an extra scene from the next morning, or with Brad’s brother banging on their door, telling them to quiet down, or something.
- No coming out angst from friends or family.
- Big bad football player Brad is a bottom and LOVES it.
- The characters act rationally when Brad finds himself with his dick down someone else’s (ie: not Sebastian) throat. He tells Sebastian, they work things out and even use it as an opportunity to take the relationship to another level. It was interesting to see the not-Sebastian sex scene and then wonderful to see how it was dealt with between Brad and Sebastian.
- The mild kink sneaks up on both characters as an additional facet to their relationship that shows how perfect they are together, rather than being something one of them needed because he’s SuperDom looking for PerfectSub.
P.S. Your blurb’s awful (SUCH a strange shift from second to third paragraph and it doesn’t capture the true tension of the novel), the cover’s pretty (nice abs) but strange (what IS that living room supposed to represent?), and the title’s horrible. But hey, YMMV.