Defenseless by A.J. Rose
Publisher: The Grim Writer Press
Genre: Gay Romance/Fiction
Tags: Romance, One Bi MC (but same-sex couple), Hate Crime, Trauma, Coming Out, Rebuilding Relationship, Court Trial. Psychological – PTSD, Aftermath of Bashing *Warning Tag for short-ish but intense violence
Length: 438 Pages
Reviewer: Kazza K
Purchase At: amazon.com
Kyle Decker knew dating Jesse McGovern would change his life. Young and in love, and with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, the world is theirs to conquer.
But their victorious Pride celebration ends in a savage attack, brutally demonstrating they’re far from equal. Instead of wedding planning, Jesse and Kyle face an arduous recovery and a shattered sense of their place in the world, their once-promising future suddenly something to survive.
While Jesse struggles with a permanent injury and its emotional aftermath, Kyle’s single-minded focus on Jesse’s recovery is the only thing keeping his demons at bay…for now. What was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love is now full of lies and resentment.
With their dreams tattered and forever changed, trusting anyone—even each other—is daunting. So how can they have faith in twelve strangers on a jury? They’ve already learned the hard way it only takes a moment to become truly defenceless.
**TREAT AS A SPOILER REVIEW**
Defenseless starts in May 2015. Twenty five year old Kyle and Jesse are in love. They’ve been partners for seven months and are now moving in together. Jesse’s family are fine with their son being gay. Kyle, on the other hand, whilst having a seemingly nice, helpful family – they’re there in the beginning helping them move into an apartment with Kyle’s “flatmate” – are an unknown quantity. Something is off, you can feel Kyle’s anxiety when Bobby, his younger brother, asks some questions about living arrangements. You wonder why Kyle is so worried telling his family the truth about his relationship because his family appear so close. His father thinks it’s sensible that they’ll be sharing costs on the new apartment, all while moving and unpacking boxes for them and talking sport.
Jesse is outgoing. He has a lot of friends, including guys from his fraternity and their partners. Kyle is more introverted in nature, also nervous about coming out, about PDA. Kyle is bi and he has dated girls. Jesse is gay. Jesse came out to his parents some time ago and while his father, Dan, took some time to fully grasp that his only child is gay, he’s since embraced it fully, as does his mother, Molly. Because Kyle is bi his parents have seen some girls in his life before, there’s also been guys, only they thought of them as Kyle’s friends.
The guys have moved into an area near Boystown in Chicago, a neighbourhood they feel familiar with and comfortable living in. They both work at the same hospital which is close by – Kyle a nurse and Jesse in accounting. They’re following the SCOTUS ruling like their lives depend on the outcome, and they do to a degree, because they love each other. Jesse wants to be able to marry Kyle and there is a marriage proposal once the ruling comes in.
After a great deal of soul searching and worry, Kyle eventually lets his parents know he’s in a relationship with Jesse, who happens to be over for dinner at the time Kyle comes out. They act like they’re fine with it but the reality is they put on a front while Jesse is there. When they’re alone, Jim, Kyle’s father, makes it clear being in a same-sex relationship is not what he wants for his son. It’s dangerous and… what will people think?
Not long after coming out, before the engagement can even be discussed, Kyle and Jesse are beaten waiting for an uber ride after having been at Pride. Jesse takes the brunt of the beating while Kyle is restrained and injured as well. The rest of the book looks at the aftermath of the beating and the respective family and friend’s reactions, as well as a search for the perpetrators of a hate crime and a pending trial. This book does cover the trial and does a good job.
There are strong secondary characters in Defenseless. Bobby, Kyle’s brother, is a great source of support when needed the most. Liam, the uber driver who turned up and scared off the men beating Kyle and Jesse, who will testify for them, is a good man who helps above and beyond what you would expect from a previous stranger. Jesse’s frat brothers, Lance, Cameron and Devon, are all incredibly practical and kind, always there to lend a hand and some good advice.
I liked Jesse and Kyle, my heart broke for them on several occasions and I found parts of the book difficult or angering to read. Jesse suffers permanent nerve damage – his injuries are horrific. While Kyle has less physical injuries, and nothing you can see that’s permanent, they are both left scared and scarred. It was hard to watch these guys change and struggle with life while they tried to get back on track – and they understandably veer off track on a number of occasions. I have very clear feelings about certain things. While A.J. Rose walked a fair and middle ground, I could not. As a parent, and I’m a parent of a gay son, I cannot understand conditional love and support of your child(ren.) I could not understand Kyle’s parent’s ridiculous attitude towards their son’s safety because of his same-sex relationship. Neither of them being there when their son and his fiancé were in hospital upset me. I was angry as I read and nothing either did made me like them – at all. I do not care about trying for redemption at he end, or whatever else, they were gone!!!! as far as I was concerned.
There’s a good timeline to this book, approximately a year. You also get Kyle and Jesse’s POV which was an absolute necessity for both of these guy’s feelings to reach the reader. There were times when they simply could not verbalise what they were feeling to one another, but we knew what was going on.
My only niggle with this book is it’s too long. There’s a bit of social commentary, which I appreciate but was already aware of because I closely follow world politics, culture and social change. Others may be interested in knowing more though. There were longer periods spent with friends than I would have liked as well. If some of that had been cut back the pacing would have flowed even better than it did, in my opinion. Having said that, I did appreciate feeling like I was living alongside Kyle and Jesse – SCOTUS ruling, physical health, emotional wellbeing, the stages of grief, a realistic portrayal of two guys trying to deal with their own problems and not bother the other. A rebuilding of two young men and a relationship which needed time. There is no disputing that all of it is well done.
The well named Defenseless is refreshing reading. Not because it’s easy reading, because it isn’t, but because it’s realistic fiction. I’ve labelled it gay fiction – one of the MCs is bi but the couple in the book are a same-sex couple, hence gay fic – but it is also a love story.
There is something incredibly personal about this book and I’m sure it will touch a number of people. There’s depth of feeling about Marriage Equality and the SCOTUS ruling which is such a recent and incredibly impactful piece of history – particularly for the LGBTQ community. You see the affect it has on the MCs, Jesse and Kyle. You also see what it feels like to be hated by angry and vicious people simply because of who you love, which is made manifest by outdated, rigid ideas by some on Marriage Equality being made law. Just how important it is to have true friends and good family. Also being bi, including dealing with many people’s preconceived ideas of bisexuality. As a matter of fact, one of the best descriptions of being bi, loving who you love and why, is in this book toward the end. It happens when Kyle has had enough of his father’s attitude and tells him a couple of home truths about his love for Jesse, why it’s not as simple as marrying a girl to make his father feel comfortable. What it’s like to be a statistic when you’ve been terrorised and beaten, simply for who you love, is so close to the bone to read. Being vilified and attacked for being same-sex attracted we all know is something that happens, but it’s so tough to read. It isn’t just the initial beating, it’s the aftermath and the fallout that has a huge emotional and physical impact, and it’s certainly shown. Everything changes for Kyle and Jesse. They need time to heal, both emotionally and physically. Time to gain some semblance of equilibrium again. Kyle and Jesse have to fight very hard and you are right there beside them as they do.
Defenseless is powerful and in your face. It’s realistic. It’s touching. It elicits strong emotions – I was sad. I was angry. I was happy. God… I was stressed. I ran the gauntlet of those feelings, several times over, as I continued reading. I like to be made to emote when I read. I like feeling enough passion that I want to yell at certain characters, if necessary, definitely cheer them on – wanting and needing something good and right to happen for the MCs. All of that was delivered in this book. For all of the reasons I’ve outlined in this review, for the strength of the overall writing, 4.5 Stars!