Usually, when I listen to an audiobook in my car, I'm okay to stop when I get to my destination. My daily commute to and from work is a 30-40 minute drive, so a ten hour long book usually takes me about two weeks to listen to fully.. However, every once in a while, I come across a book, and it is impossible for me to leave it in the car. I find myself listening every moment I get outside of my car, including just before going to bed. I've had books that I've read that I just couldn't put down. Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City was like that, but it's generally easier to pause an audiobook. In fact, I can only think of twice when this has happened. The first time was Brad Boney's The Return, and the second was Heidi Cullinan's Love Lessons. I got invested in the characters and their situation so quickly, I just couldn't let go, and though I loved the ending, this was a book that I almost cried because it was over. I wanted more and thankfully, on the author's website she has a link to a short story that is a continuation and I loved those twenty pages almost as much as I loved the whole book. One quick thing, I do love Amy Lane's books (one of my all time favorite authors) but when I'm listening to her books, sometimes you have to take a break from the emotional roller coaster or your heart will explode.
I've already reviewed The Return, but Love Lessons is a book that captured my heart and wouldn't let it go. Initially, you might not be endeared to the two main character Walter and Kelly, but these boys quickly work their way into your heart. Neither are perfect characters. One is overly idealistic, while the other is overly cynical, and whereas that might sound like a turn off, Walter and Kelly are far more complicated than that. I absolutely fell in love with Kelly after he suffers a major allergic reaction and is mortified. Cullinan wrote:
Kelly's allergies set him apart. I think this touched me because so many of us find that there is something that sets us apart and keeps us from feeling normal. I have a dear friend who suffers from anxiety and depression, and I've heard him say, "I just want to be normal. I'm so fucked up." The truth is, he is not "fucked up" but his anxiety makes him feel different and separate. My depression and headaches make me feel the same way. We all see that thing that sets us apart as something that is abnormal or fucked up, but we learn to love with our separateness and not let it stop us. It doesn't stop Kelly, and probably more so than anything, it allows him to understand the demons that haunt Walter.
The complexities of Cullinan's characters are not the only only thing that drew me into this book. It takes place at the fictional Hope University, where diversity and acceptance are supposed to be its major mission beyond excellent academics. Hope is billed as a family and community for its students and faculty. However, like much of life, the university isn't the Disney fantasy it portrays itself to be. There are loopholes in the system. They may technically deliver on promises, but they aren't following the spirit of their mission. Corners are cut and the students and faculty find that it's at their expense.
Heidi Cullinan says she has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending, which means she's a woman after my own heart. Though her writing spans across many genres, she loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren't enough of those stories out there. Cullinan is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. And because it may be of interest to at least one of my readers, I think I read that Cullinan lives in Ames, Iowa, but I couldn't find the reference again. You can find out more about Cullinan, find the short story sequel "Frozen Heart", and links to her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com. I think I've found a new author to love.
The narrator for Love Lessons is Iggy Toma, a voice-over artist, musician, and activist based in New York City. He is an avid reader of romance and mystery, and he has a soft spot for daytime soap operas, which comes through in a good way as the narrator of a romance novel. I was really drawn into his narration and it really brought the emotions alive for me. I only have one complaint, and this is just a small (very small) thing that bugged me, but I can't let it go. As part of Hope University, the upperclassmen dorms, called the Manors, has each individual "manor" named after civil rights martyrs. Kelly notices one called Dahmer, to which Walter explains, "Vernon not Jeffrey," which would be clever and I assume that's what Cullinan meant, but the names are actually pronounced quite differently, no matter the spelling. The serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is pronounce "DAH-mer" but the Mississippi civil right martyr Vernon Dahmer (and someone I have always found to be a true hero) is pronounced "DAY-mer". I know that is being petty, but I've met Vernon Dahmer's widow, Ellie, and their children several times, and I've heard firsthand how they pronounce their name. I can't help it that as a historian I caught on to that. I'm sure most people wouldn't.
This is one instance where I loved that the book wasn't filled with angst. Will they or won't they get together? Except for Walter and Kelly, everyone knows exactly where this relationship is headed. There's plenty of drama and heartbreak but you know they will overcome it in the end. Their relationship grows from a great friendship and mutual lust for one another, but grows deeper throughout the book. I know I've said this already, but you become invested in these characters.
There are a lot of lessons in this book, but at its heart is a love story. A beautiful love story and we should remember that as the books tag line says, "Love doesn’t come with a syllabus."
A blurb for Love Lessons:
Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.
Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.