Becoming Kerry by Lynn Kelling
Rating: 5 Stars
Genre: LGBTQ – See Tags
Tags: LGBTQ Romance – Bisexual, Transgender (ex partner), GenderQueer MC, Contemporary, Drama, BDSM (Light), Exotic Dancer and Security Guard, Slight Age Gap
Length: 92,000 Words
Reviewer: Kazza K
Kerry Sanderson’s life is falling apart. He’s crushing himself to fit into the boxes others have put him in: dutiful son, good boyfriend, real man. But even the small rebellions he’s fought for himself—moving into a sketchy part of town and becoming an exotic dancer—aren’t giving him the freedom he needs. Ewyn Garrity, a security guard at the gay club where Kerry dances, has found himself in protecting others. Everyone thinks he’s straight, but Ewyn doesn’t fit into simple boxes, either. When he meets Kerry, he makes a not completely innocent offer of company after work.
Ewyn and Kerry hit it off, each finding something he desperately needs in the other. But when Kerry is forced to confront the pain and self-doubt that keep him crushed in his boxes, he’s afraid that no one, not even Ewyn, will be able to love who he is when he finally, truly becomes Kerry. (M/M, M/GQ)
**I use the pronouns he and she in this review for Kerry, just as the author uses them in the progression of the book. Becoming Kerry is LGBTQ romance with the personal growth and realisation of one MC, Kerry, who is genderqueer. Kerry also prefers she/her after a decision has been reached, with a degree of latitude for people around them, but initially Kerry exclusively uses he/him.
As human beings, we tend to look to fit in somewhere. In our family, our peer group, within the local and wider community. When you don’t fit society’s constructed gender and sexuality notions it’s not easy. When things that should be no big deal make you fearful and hyperaware – who you date, simply leaving your house, buying things that people think you shouldn’t, wearing makeup and clothes and shoes that don’t fit (often vociferous, angry) people’s preconceived ideas of (your) gender, it’s certainly not easy. It takes a great deal of bravery to live your life on your own terms at the best of times, it’s so much harder when you break the mould set for you by others. It shouldn’t be this way but for any number of people on any given day it is. That’s the backdrop of Becoming Kerry.
This book is very much a romance, a love story, between two wonderful MCs with a definite intensity to their characters and their story. They are somewhat lost souls (particularly Kerry), who have been hurt and are scarred/worried, who find one another, all while Kerry finds a comfortable place in the world and Ewyn supports him/her and finds his own healing and purpose.
Ewyn Garrity works in security and as part of his job he works on the door at a popular gay nightclub, Blaze. Ewyn has dated women in the past because it seemed the right thing, and he likes women. People believe he’s straight – he’s tall and powerful, pierced, intense, dominant.
While Ewyn convinced himself he might settle down with a wife, have children, make his extended family happy, he’s also been with men, just not taken it all the way or anywhere in particular, and when he’s really honest about it he knows he is just as attracted to men as women.
When he had fooled around with guys, it had never gone as far as sex. That was something he now regretted, but it wasn’t possible to go back in time and make different choices.
Ewyn goes to his friend Trevor’s men-only BDSM nights but he doesn’t take part because he wants a specific person. He wants someone permanent, but he hasn’t been able to find that unique combination of soft and strong, sweet and determined, yet submissive. Someone who can handle the deeply focused, safety-driven, deeply concerned person that he is. He also needs someone who will let him take control in the bedroom… often beyond that. He likes to care for people and he’s extremely protective, particularly after/in light of the murder of his younger brother, Darcy. The moment Ewyn sees Kerry, the way he moves, his waxed body, his overt vulnerability, he knows he has to approach him. Once he talks to Kerry he’s compelled to protect him at all costs. Ewyn falls for Kerry quickly – although the words I love you do not appear until around the 65% mark of the book. Nevertheless, there is a connection that is forged almost instantaneously for the MCs. It would be easy to feel it is all too much too soon but it’s a natural fit.
Twenty year old Kerry Sanderson has just started dancing at Blaze after a period stripping at a male review. At Savage Men he performed on stage and also gave private lap-dances for women. His work at Savage Men, his mostly military family, including three older brothers, his (now ex) boyfriend, Jamie, all had their own expectations that Kerry would fit neatly into a certain masculine type. Kerry left home because his stepfather was aggressive towards him one too many times and his family would excuse his behaviour. His brothers would turn a blind eye to Kerry’s obvious confusion and hurt. Kerry and Jamie moved into an apartment in a rough neighbourhood together, but were friends before they became partners. Kerry would support Jamie at his trans group meetings and befriended several people in the process. Jamie wanted Kerry to take control, both in general life and in the bedroom, neither of which naturally suited Kerry’s needs and desires, all of it leading to confusion and conflict, making Kerry opt for some personally challenging choices. When this book starts, Kerry and Jamie have been separated for several months. They are finding their footing once again as friends and I enjoyed how much they supported one another. Kerry knew, as did Jamie, they weren’t right as partners. So when Ewyn first approaches Kerry, Kerry is unsure if it’s borne out of professionalism – the other dancers say Ewyn is straight – or if there’s actually something more behind his focused interest.
“Vulnerable people tend to attract predators,” Ewyn explained quietly. “I’ve had… friends… get hurt that way. I don’t intend for it to happen again, especially on my watch.” It sounded sincere, and like there were painful memories behind the sentiment.
There’s a fair bit of story in Becoming Kerry and I can’t even remotely do it justice in a review. There’s a sensitivity and a very real gravity to both Kerry and Ewyn, and, justifiably, neither are what I would call naturally breezy characters. There is much to unravel. Kerry is initially unsure where he fits and Ewyn sees the similarities between Darcy and Kerry. Losing his brother the way he did created a man who walks an emotional edge and partners have left him because Ewyn has been so keyed up about danger to the point of smothering, his job enmeshed with his life. As Ewyn becomes more and more involved with Kerry he has a purpose. He sets a couple of positive rules outside the bedroom, and also likes to push Kerry to enjoy sex for the first time in his life as Ewyn takes charge.
“Okay, I’m making a rule. Our very first one,” Ewyn said, with a flicker of good humor in his tone. He caressed back over Kerry’s cheekbone, into his hair. “No apologizing. Ever. Especially not for the way you feel.”
I loved the pairing of Ewyn and Kerry. They just work together. I think this is a case where individually they’re not as powerful as they are as a couple. Ewyn has some specific needs from, wants in a partner, and Kerry fits like a glove. This in turn helps Kerry be who he wants to be. Ewyn’s acceptance and support of Kerry was a beautiful thing to watch unfold. It’s not always easy in life for people to find another person so in-tune with them, so supportive. Kerry’s short but difficult history has left him scared witless of change – with good reason – and Ewyn wants to help Kerry overcome that. He nudges him to discuss the reasons behind some of Kerry’s insecurity. He also has the ability to see where Kerry’s correct identity lies and gently encourages affirming changes. Kerry trusting in Ewyn and allowing him to take control in key areas makes Ewyn more able to deal with his loss. Kerry’s duality inspires Ewyn. Neither MC ever expects the other to change to suit the other, it’s about mutual acceptance, support, respect, overcoming fears, and love.
Around his parents, Kerry always had to wear the uniform of khakis and polo shirts. With Jamie, Kerry had been pressured in a different way to become the man’s man Jamie craved. The whole time, what Kerry personally wanted never seemed to matter. Now, his tentative first steps towards honest self-expression were being witnessed by a man Kerry wanted to impress. It was both a thrill and a terror.
Erin, Ewyn’s mother, is amazing. Praise-be for mothers in LGBTQ books that aren’t meddling bitches. Erin is cheery, wise, motherly, accepting and also a self-confessed fusser… just like her son.
This book is by Lynn Kelling so there is plenty of sex and eroticism. It’s hot. It’s organic. It works in a book that has plenty to say on a social level. It’s written so it flows seamlessly between emotion and desire. The quiet exhibitionist and the dominant voyeur are wonderful.
“Fair warning,” Ewyn said between gasps for air. “I may need to take this dress off ya and kiss you for a while. In a few different places. To start with.”
“Please, she says,” Ewyn grinned. “Well then…”
Drama gets a tag for reasons. There is a lot that happens within these pages. Kerry needs to let go, to grow and lovingly embrace who she is. If you enjoy the Twin Ties series I think you’ll also enjoy Becoming Kerry. Both have their own social commentary and both have their fair share of turns and events. Both are emotionally charged and erotic. Both have MCs with approximately the same age difference, albeit only two MCs in Becoming Kerry. In someone else’s hands, frankly, this book could have been awkward, and it’s anything but. It’s another poignant, meaningful Lynn Kelling story.
The publisher has a tag for BDSM, which I’ve included, but don’t go in thinking punishment or spankings or gags or some oft-used BDSM kink. It’s more subtle and about being able to let go. To maintain a sense of equilibrium.
“Widen your stance. Stand straight. Lace your fingers behind your head.”
The commands helped him calm down, giving him something to focus on, other than his doubts.
Ewyn had learned a lot from his friend Trevor about creating safety and control in sex and romance, though he didn’t have the interest in following through with a strict BDSM lifestyle. The kink didn’t draw him as much as the order and sense of it all.
For some time Kerry’s family did not endear themselves to me and I have many notes reminding myself how much I didn’t like his stepfather, I didn’t think much of Kerry’s mother or brothers either. Then they started to come around. Kent, the closest brother to Kerry, wanted to maintain a relationship with Kerry and he worked with the nuclear family to do the same. He helped them become more supportive across the board and to reach out. Have I left this book thinking that Kerry’s stepfather is going to slip up and become hostile at some point? Hmm. Yes. I’m not 100% convinced about you Michael. I know people can change, I just don’t trust you completely. I hope there is another book planned for Kerry and Ewyn, because I want to see how things have progressed between them, as well as with Kerry’s family. I want to know more about Kerry’s friend, Dima. I’d love to see more about Kerry’s business venture as well. How things are working with her ability to wholly and completely embrace who she is in the world around her.
For as much as I loved Kerry, how a hemmed-in he tentatively joins with a very brave she, I also loved Ewyn. He is a hero, contrary to what he thinks he lacked in regards to the death of his brother. I have notes piled up on my Kindle for him, often starting with, awww…. I have notes about Kerry as well, brave is a biggie – it’s why it’s taken me days to review this book.
This is one of my favourite Lynn Kelling books, and that’s saying something. There is such depth to the storytelling that I’m certain a second read would shine a light on things missed the first time around. There is a genuineness to the eroticism and dramaticism. Within Kerry’s metamorphosis there is love, healing, comfort and immense hope. I love well written psychological and/or emotional books and I expect a strong seed of reality sown into it even though it’s fiction. I truly enjoy seeing a Phoenix rising up from the ashes. I revel in hope given to characters who have been through much and won hard fought battles to become their true selves. Life is full of ups and downs. It is complex, and Becoming Kerry mirrors that complexity with dignity, love and hope. 5 Stars!
Initially an ARC but I purchased my own copy