When Love Is Not Enough (Unconditional Love)

When Love Is Not Enough  (Unconditional Love, #1) - Wade Kelly (Book provided by the author through ARR #455 in the Makinc Connections group, in exchange for an honest review.)

I hesitated a lot about which mark to give this book, pondering a 3 at first. I have a few gripes with it... but all things considered, it was a beautiful story that got me hooked no matter what, more complex than it seems, and so I settled on 4 stars.

Part of me perceived the characters and their reactions as often too angsty, too over-the-top, and at first sight too skewed. I thought I may not like this novel in the end. The author tackles a lot of issues in it: violence at home, broken parents-children relationships, homosexuality, rape (left unseen), lies bordering on cheating... Do so many things happen to people? Was it believable? Wasn't it just, well, 'too much'?

Then I thought some more, and realized that those plot points, what went in the characters' lives, were precisely why I liked the book in the end: it made me wonder, it made me try to question people's motives and reactions, try to understand why such event would lead to such reactions. And this was quite interesting.

There were moments I didn't get Jamie. I didn't get Matt. I didn't get Darian. Why would Jamie keep everything separated, everything hidden? Why wouldn't he just leave, give the finger, and steer his own life as soon as he was legally of age? Why would Matt be so hell-bent on one night stands? Why would Darian fall into Matt's arms like that? I couldn't get those. In a way, their reactions made me angry. That said, as soon as I started thinking more about them, they actually made sense, too.

- Jamie, desperate to be accepted for who he was, yet also knowing deep inside (without admitting it to himself) that it just wouldn't happen; trying to balance out everything, to keep everything in little boxes because this may have been the only control he felt he could have on his life. I wondered why, after everything he had been through, one conversation would prompt him to commit suicide; but the very nature of that talk, as well as the people involved, had a shattering potential, and I can understand why someone like Jamie would suddenly make a terrible decision after that, after realizing openly that all his efforts were in vain.

- Matt: acting that way, I suppose, because not involving himself, not committing himself, removed the dreaded possibility of having to come out to his family. As long as he kept things like that, he wouldn't have to make the choice, to cross the line, and could go on pretending that he was 'just like the others', like what other people expected him to be. In that regard, he too was caught in the same trap as Jamie, that of feeling he had to conform and hide who he truly was inside. In spite of assuming his being gay, he only assumed it far enough from home to be of no consequence to his official life.

- Darian: so desperate, alone, a young man who from the start had been robbed from half his close family, and was so frightened of losing his newfound happiness that, paradoxically, trying to escape those feelings could have destroyed him. And then Jamie was gone, making Darian's worst fear come true, in a much cruel and ironic twist. But in spite of his frailty, of his inability to cope, he was still strong in many other ways. Strong in how he assumed who he was from the start. Strong in how he admitted he was afraid, and made the choice to not give in, even though this meant running straight into someting that a lot of people would deem as shocking. He was a beautiful soul, a person with a heart of gold, plenty of love to give freely, and the ability to commit himself fully to the one he loved, without conditions.

As I wrote above, I had some gripes with the book, and I can't not just mention them, because even though I enjoyed the story, they may be a turn-off for a different reader:

- A couple of inserts were really, really weird. I'm thinking more specifically about that part where Darian reads from a book to Jamie, and we get the whole details about the title, author, the book being on Goodreads, an excerpt from the real text... Although I usually enjoy cameos, that one was too much like some kind of ad, that temporarily made me go "what the heck?" and broke my train of reading. I recovered quickly, but it was seriously weird.

- Matt's speech in the end. It was spot-on, sure, yet it was also too much of a literal sermon. That too made me quirk an eyebrow and wonder if it was so necessary to present it this way.

- Not so much a gripe as a "I would have preferred if...": Darian and Matt's relationship. It evolved too quickly to my taste. It was beautiful, and it sort of made sense in that both of them were drawn together by the very pain that might have destroyed them had they stayed along... but I think I'd have liked it more if it had been closer to budding friendship, with love developing from there, and not the way it had started.

I suppose my review might come off as bizarre and unbalanced: a story that made me angry, confused, with characters whose reactions felt flawed at first, with an episode that destroyed my suspension of disbelief, with a sermon... and I'm still giving it such a high mark?

That's precisely because it made me angry—and I'm not prone to a lot of feelings while reading, so any author who proves able to elicit something in me like that get to have bonus points. And in spite of the other flaws I mentioned, the way the story managed to captivate me is something I definitely can't ignore.

(Bonus points go to Jamie's mother, too, for being one of the craziest bitches I've seen in a novel so far. What's most mind-shattering is that in the real world, there *are* people like her, who should clearly not be left running a family, yet are such skilled manipulators that nobody ever notices how screwed-up they are. I hated that woman, really.)