Updated Review: BLUEBERRY BOYS by Vanessa North

blueberry_boysBlueberry Boys by Vanessa North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Connor Graham is a city boy—a celebrated fashion photographer in New York. When his uncle’s death drags him back to the family blueberry farm, all he wants to do is sell it as quickly as he can. Until he meets his uncle’s tenant farmer.

Jed Jones, shy and stammering, devout and dedicated, has always yearned for land of his own and a man to share it with. Kept in the closet by his church, family, and disastrous first love, he longs to be accepted for who he is. But now, with his farm and his future in Connor’s careless hands, he stands to lose even the little he has.

Neither man expects the connection between them. Jed sees Connor—appreciates his art and passion like no one else in this godforsaken town ever has. Connor hears Jed—looks past his stutter to listen to the man inside. The time they share is idyllic, but with the farm sale pending, even their sanctuary is a source of tension. As work, family, and their town’s old-fashioned attitudes pull them apart, they must find a way to reconcile commitments to their careers and to each other.


~ UPDATED REVIEW: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE ~

This was actually a difficult book for me to review. I wasn’t satisfied with my original review, because I felt like I hadn’t put enough effort into it. So, I’m giving it another try.

For a short novel, BLUEBERRY BOYS by Vanessa North had a lot to say, and it was a little frustrating for me to find the right words to describe it. The narration in this novel is poetic, lyrical, concise, and somewhat metaphorical, but whenever religion and church are brought into a novel, I am automatically wary and on the lookout for symbolism that may or may not be there. This isn’t something I want to do when I’m reading a romance novel, because it takes me out of the story. I want to be drawn into the characters’ emotions, to be fully immersed in the fairytale. That doesn’t mean this novel wasn’t emotionally satisfying or it didn’t have a happy ending. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a romance novel. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book or I didn’t think it’s a story worth reading. It’s just that I don’t think I have the skills to interpret any subtext that might be present in the novel and the vocabulary to participate in a larger dialogue about it. Everything I said previously still holds true for me. For me, this is a 5 star book. The narration is warm, the characters endearing, the sexy times lush and gorgeously loving.

But the themes of acceptance and belonging keep occupying my thoughts. For one thing, I can’t relate to the culture of wholesome, Small Town, USA, which was the impression I got from the cover and book design. I see the world through a different lens, since I’m a person of color and technically an immigrant and not a natural-born U.S citizen, though I considered myself an American ever since I can remember. What I can relate to is feeling that I don’t belong and that I’m not accepted for who I am, and these kinds of feelings I believe are universal. So, I can imagine how it must have hurt Connor to leave home when he was twenty-two and to return home for his uncle’s funeral in the present day of the story, even though it was freeing to move to the Big City, where he feels more comfortable about being openly gay.

I can imagine how suffocating it must feel for a gay man to be closeted; to live a double life; to be married to a woman and have a family not with the man he loves; to be in so much pain that Connor’s childhood friend Kyle eventually committed suicide. I can imagine how devastated Connor felt when he learned about his friend’s suicide, because he had wanted Kyle to be free and open, happy and alive. I can imagine how Jed had grieved for the man he once loved and the guilt he felt for perhaps pressuring Kyle to choose Jed and leave his wife; how frustrated Jed must have felt to not be out with the man he loved, to be living a lie himself; how he must have longed to be openly accepted. I can imagine how hurt Connor is by his brother’s abusive treatment toward him, vehement dislike, and lack of respect for him. And I can imagine how fearful Jed is about coming out to his family, friends, community, and church; of losing his ties to his family and home.

I think yearning to be loved unconditionally is also universal. I think about how hard it is to find someone who totally gets you and what a precious gift love is. This book gave me a lot to think about, things I know in my heart of hearts but don’t articulate often and openly in my daily life, because it’s actually kind of painful. But this book isn’t about overburdening the reader with emotional angst; it’s heartwarming, positive, and hopeful. That happy ending isn’t about what was lost but what is gained. And that’s exactly the kind of wish fulfillment romance readers read for.


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