Book Review – Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins

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Again, I have to say the cover is what grabbed me. University boy, sunglasses, attitude.

I’m not particularly a fan of the “gay-for-you” trope unless it’s done properly, but the premise intrigued me and, as the quintessential voyeur, I really liked the idea of one guy watching the sexual antics of his roommate.

*Off Campus blurb

Everyone’s got secrets. Some are just harder to hide.

With his father’s ponzi scheme assets frozen, Tom Worthington believes finishing college is impossible unless he can pay his own way. After months sleeping in his car and gypsy-cabbing for cash, he’s ready to do just that.

But his new, older-student housing comes with an unapologetically gay roommate. Tom doesn’t ask why Reese Anders has been separated from the rest of the student population. He’s just happy to be sleeping in a bed.

Reese isn’t about to share his brutal story with his gruff new roommate. You’ve seen one homophobic jock, you’ve seen ’em all. He plans to drag every twink on campus into his bed until Tom moves out. But soon it becomes clear Tom isn’t budging.

Tom isn’t going to let some late-night sex noise scare him off, especially when it’s turning him on. But he doesn’t want any drama either. He’ll keep his hands, if not his eyes, to himself. Boundaries have a way of blurring when you start sharing truths, though. And if Tom and Reese cross too many lines, they may need to find out just how far they can bend…before they break.

Warning: This book contains cranky roommates who vacillate between lashing out and licking, some male/male voyeurism, emotional baggage that neither guy wants to unpack, and the definitive proof that sound carries in college housing.

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This book did not disappoint. In fact, I’m re-reading it at the moment and am even more impressed at the quality of the writing.

Amy Jo Cousins has such an amazing grasp of body language and human behaviour and the writing ability to create a vivid picture in the mind of her readers, which is equally impressive when she’s writing a hot voyeuristic scene or one in which her compelling characters reveal their emotional vulnerabilities and hints of their equally traumatic pasts.

Ms. Cousins makes it pretty clear from the beginning that Tom’s interest in his roommate Reese’s sexual antics comes as not so much a surprise to the “supposedly” straight former athlete but a reminder that he’s always had a level of sexual fluidity. She makes his reaction to his feelings intelligent and self-perceptive. He is mature and self-aware enough to realize he has always been, as he puts it, equal opportunity, when it comes to his sexual attractions. In my opinion, this is the only way the “gay-for-you” trope can work in a way that is respectful to the real Queer community. Because a straight guy doesn’t just “turn gay” for the one person that he finds himself falling in love with. That straight guy has to at least have a closeted past and/or a knowledge of his own bisexuality that simply flew under the radar until he is forced to acknowledge it.

Both protagonists in Off Campus are extremely compelling and about equally matched in the trauma that has shaped them. They are each trying to manage as best they can by dealing with former situations of deep betrayal and victimization. Tom has been metaphorically fucked over by his Dad’s criminal financial past and Reese, well, you’ll have to read the book to find out. But both characters’ situations are utterly believable and their strength in response to all that has occurred is one of the things that binds them. They both refuse to let their betrayers triumph. They both are committed to moving forward in whatever capacity that entails and, eventually, their tentative relationship helps them to heal themselves.

Ms. Cousins also gives the secondary characters vivid personalities. Tom’s friend Cash and Reese’s friend Steph are drawn just as realistically as her protagonists and add a great and real level of comedy in their interactions with Tom, Reese and, eventually, each other.

This is a wonderful story about survival, redemption, and refusing to be a victim.

And let me just say that the many voyeuristic scenes at the beginning of this full-length novel were some of the best I’ve read.

This is a dense book packed with real knowledge of human behaviour and psychology. I absolutely loved it.

Definite 5/5 stars.

*Off Campus is Book 1 in Amy Jo Cousins Bend or Break series.

 

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