If you’re a big romance reader, you’re probably familiar with this storyline: two people meet and dislike each other on sight. They’re thrown together regularly over a period of time, and that dislike turns to mutual appreciation and attraction. Just as they think they’ve found love, life gets in the way and the two are parted. After a period of heartbreak and soul-searching, they’re reunited for their happily-ever-after (or at least happy-for-now) ending. You may love this storyline. I do not. The romance books I love are decidedly different from this pattern, and my latest discovery is no exception: In The Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish.
First, here’s the gist: Daniel is a lifelong city boy, native to Philadelphia where he grew up as a black sheep in his family of mechanics. Now, he’s finally getting his graduate degree and can look for a job as an English professor. But the only college that will interview him for a position is in a small town in Michigan where he feels like even MORE of a black sheep. He’s wondering if he’ll ever fit in anywhere, when a nighttime mishap lands him on the doorstep of Rex, a local furniture-builder made reclusive by his crippling shyness. Their physical and emotional attraction is immediate, but they’ve both been damaged by trauma and are reluctant to trust each other. Over time, following their instincts and talking honestly about their feelings leads them into a relationship that is healing to them both, though tested by unwelcome surprises on all sides.
Now, it’s not perfect. For one thing, it’s written entirely from Daniel’s perspective, which can leave Rex’s feelings and needs neglected (though you can see the author tries to make up for this). But despite its weaker places, this is a book which distances itself from all the tropes I dislike, in heartwarming and refreshing ways. The attraction that draws Rex and Daniel together is both physical and emotional; they make each other feel safe and valued, and there’s no friction of dislike to get past. The steamy scenes (and there are many) are full of healthy communication, safe practices, consent, tenderness and mutual care. There is also frank, honest discussion of past traumas and the baggage they each bring to the relationship, which means the narrative focuses on their emotional healing and making peace with their past – in communication and partnership with each other. They support and stand up for each other, and (spoilers) there’s no gratuitous separation or a breakup used as a plot device. The narrative climax that does happen ties into all the issues that were explored earlier in the story, bringing them to a head AND leaving room for sequels.
What’s also effective is the immersion into the various subcultures in the story: small town life, Michigan culture, the Philadelphia scene, and the world of higher education. Each feels authentic and researched, giving the novel a strong sense of place and being grounded in the world.
If you’re looking for a steamy, escapist read grounded on wholesome, caring principles, I recommend you find yourself In the Middle of Somewhere.