Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Review: Bear, Otter, and the Kid by TJ Klune

Bear, Otter, and the Kid
~TJ Klune

Paperback: 350 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publish Date: August 12, 2011
ISBN-10: 1613720874
ISBN-13: 978-1613720875

From Goodreads:
Three years ago, Bear McKenna’s mother took off for parts unknown with her new boyfriend, leaving Bear to raise his six-year-old brother Tyson, aka the Kid. Somehow they’ve muddled through, but since he’s totally devoted to the Kid, Bear isn’t actually doing much living—with a few exceptions, he’s retreated from the world, and he’s mostly okay with that. Until Otter comes home.
Otter is Bear’s best friend’s older brother, and as they’ve done for their whole lives, Bear and Otter crash and collide in ways neither expect. This time, though, there’s nowhere to run from the depth of emotion between them. Bear still believes his place is as the Kid’s guardian, but he can’t help thinking there could be something more for him in the world... something or someone.

Darryl "Bear" McKenna was days away from his 18th birthday when he came home to a letter from his mother:  She's leaving town with her latest boyfriend who does't want kids; so his mother is leaving Bear's six-year-old brother, Ty, in Bear's care.  Bear is devastated - he's about to graduate and go to college on a scholarship, but now all that's about to change. Luckily he's got his girlfriend, Anna, his best friend, Creed, and Creed's older brother Oliver (Otter).  They all staunchly support Bear and Ty and rally around to make sure things are okay - not perfect, but they're making it work.

As the story opens, Bear, Ty, and Creed are headed Creed's parent's home for the summer.  Their house is supposed to be empty, but Otter is there.  Bear hasn't spoken to Otter in almost three years - since the "incident" that Bear doesn't want to think about.  He's still angry Otter left the way he did.  But everyone else is happy Otter is back, and maybe Bear is just fighting how he really feels...

Otter has been living in San Diego, but he's come back to get his head together and try to salvage his friendship with Bear: he knows Bear is the only person he's ever loved without reservation.  Sure, he had a boyfriend in San Diego, but he never stopped thinking about Bear and what happened between them.  He thought he was doing the right thing when he left, but now he's not so sure, and he's come home to try to fix it.

What follows is a heartwarming, heartbreaking, frustrating and beautiful story of finding love and finding yourself.

My thoughts:
I really enjoyed Bear, Otter, and the Kid.  TJ Klune has a knack for writing sympathetic characters and the reader will be feeling all the ups and downs in the story right along with them.  Klune writes a heartbreaking situation, but he does so with bits of humor interspersed to keep the reader from wallowing in pity:

Creed scowls.  "Hardly.  All he does now is mope like a goddamn teenage girl.  Anytime I'm home, he's in his room with the door locked.  I'm telling you guys, he got worked over really bad in San Diego.  I thought the whole point of having a gay brother was that they were supposed to be all cool and shit.  I've got a defective gay."
~ 21%, Bear, Otter, and the Kid

The secondary characters are written into the story in such a way that you think about them when they're not on the page.  You find yourself wondering how Ty is doing at his first sleepover or how Anna has been since the breakup.    Ty, Creed, Anna, and even the neighbor Mrs. Paquinn add depth to an already emotion-filled story.  I'll warn you up front, Bear, Otter, and the Kid is full of angst, but it's sooo good.  Bear does a lot of internal monologues, things he wants to say, needs to say, but doesn't say:

But everything else was crumbling around me, and I didn't know what else to do.  I know that I can't keep using that as an excuse, no matter how hard I try.  But something funny happened, Creed.  Otter came back.  Otter came back and something in me shifted, something in my broke free.  For the first time in a long time, I saw myself through somebody else's eyes.  It was blinding because it was like looking into the sun.  I've never had anyone look at me that way before.  Something in me changed, and I've been struggling with it since.  It's an uphill battle every day, and I don't see the end in sight, and that terrifies me.  But if you want to know the truth, I want you to know.  I love him.  I love Otter.  I think I always have, and I think I always will.  It sounds weird, I know, coming from me.  I'm the last person you'd expect to hear say something like this.  I just don't want to keep it in anymore.  I'm tired of fighting it, and Otter told me the fight for me was all he's ever known, and I couldn't do that to him anymore.  Not when he finally came home to me.
~56%, Bear, Otter, and the Kid

In case you can't tell from the monologue, Bear has a hard time accepting he's gay.  He does love Otter but can't admit he's gay.  I found this one of the most endearing and frustrating aspects of the book.  While I understand Bear's reluctance, at the same time I could feel Otter's pain and feelings of rejection.

One part of the story I had a problem with was Bear's mother.  Without giving away spoilers, her part in the story didn't make any sense and was never explained.  I think the story could have ended the same way without her appearance.

The last thing I'm going to mention is Bear's younger brother Ty.  Ty is absolutely adorable:  he's super-smart, and at first I was worried he'd be an annoying kid with a saccharine personality.  Not so - he was quite yoda-like with his knowledge of how the world works and his ability to read people.  Great kid, fun to read, full of smart advice for not only Bear, but the rest of the gang as well.

Poignant, funny, hopeful and heartwarming, I absolutely recommend Bear, Otter, and the Kid.    The sex is secondary to the storyline, very mild, so this would be good for new readers of gay romance, as well as those with a bit more experience in the genre.

My Rating:

Book provided by the publisher via NetGalley.


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