What I’m most passionate about in my reading of romance now is diversity. I actively search stories that highlight and reflect the diversity in the world — ethnic, social, sexual, physical, etc. And one of the romance series that explores this diversity in a most profound and engaging manner is the Bend or Break series by Amy Jo Cousins.
This is a series of four novels so far, with another full-length novel and a sequel novella coming out soon. They are mostly m/m romances, although the third book, The Girl Next Door, features a m/f couple though the woman is actually bisexual (and there is a super hot m/f/m threesome as well) , so the series can be summed up as diverse queer romance.
It all begins with Tom and Reese in Off Campus — a New Adult college romance that explores serious social issues. Tom’s dad is in prison after committing a Ponzi scheme, so Tom’s is a fall-from-grace situation, and now he’s struggling to stay in college. This story also explores the consequences of being a victim of sexual assault (Reese) and how it affects and changes a person. At the same time it’s a story of self-discovery (Tom is coming to understand that he actually likes both girls and guys) and coming out. One of the main strengths of the series is the way Amy Jo portrays so realistically young, college-age people, with all the confusion and urgency and exuberance of youth. The characters make mistakes, there is miscommunication and some wrong and hasty assumptions made, yet I find them fitting to the young age of the boys and part of their journey into adulthood.
The same love and understanding for young men — being lost and confused — continues in the second book, Nothing Like Paris. It shows the villain from the first book, Jack, getting back in his home town and together with his high-school and as it turns out, true love, Miguel. It’s another powerful New Adult queer story, this time set not in college but in a small rural town. Amy Jo does a fabulous job of redeeming Jack, who was a total jerk in Tom and Reese’s story. In addition to exploring a gay romance in a small-town setting, the story also deals with issues of ethnic background (Miguel is Hispanic-American) and social and family expectations.
The third book, The Girl Next Door, takes us in the future after Tom and Reese (their best friends, Cash and Steph) had graduated college and are on their own, working and finding their place in life as adults. It’s a m/f romance, but the diversity element is preserved as well — Steph is bisexual and Cash, while straight, is totally sexually open and willing to do everything to please the woman he loves. What stands out the most here besides the romance is the easy friendship between straight and queer people. The story sends a strong positive message: you like who you like and I like who I like and we can all be friends because we are cool and awesome.
Level Hands is the latest book released in the series and my favourite thus far. We are back in a college setting withanother gay couple. Denny is Cash’s cousin and Rafi is a Dominican-American guy who worked with Cash and now has a rower’s scholarship at the same college Denny attends. It’s the most angsty and emotional book in the series. Told entirely from Rafi’s point of view, it focuses on issues such as anxiety, the desire to fit in, the doubts that you deserve the good things that you get. Both characters are openly gay, yet they struggle to find a way to be together. Another powerfully done story about being young and feeling overwhelmed. I could relate to so many of Rafi’s emotions on a personal level and this made the story especially memorable for me.
There is a Christmas novella about Tom and Reese coming out later this year and to avoid any spoilers, I can just say you should check the publisher’s tags for it.
If you are looking for diverse New Adult romance with well-dawn and complex characters who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can be with the person they love, Amy Jo Cousins’s Bend or Break series offers a perfect balance between angst and passion, real life struggles and sexy times.
I’m Elena and I am a reader, book blogger, lover of coffee and chocolate.