Book Review

College Boys by Daisy Harris

D+

Title: College Boys
Author: Daisy Harris
Publication Info: Siren BookStrand 2012
ISBN: 1619266954
Genre: Contemporary Romance

I was intrigued by the description of this book: 

When soccer star Chris Fischer moves next door to an openly gay classmate, he doesn't realize the wall between their rooms will be so thin he'll hear his neighbor's every move. But soon he and Peter become friends, and Chris is intrigued—imagining what happens on the other side of the wall.

Active on the Queer Student Council, Peter Cohen wishes he wasn't so damn hot for his straight neighbor. He can't tell if Chris is flirting or in denial or what, but Chris's innocent overtures lure Peter into flirtation that throws his world into chaos. Peter doesn't want to date a closet case, but he desperately, passionately wants Chris.

Soon Chris must choose whether to run away from his new feelings or embrace a relationship with the guy he loves. And Peter must decide if he can give his heart to a guy who hasn't yet figured it all out.

However, that summary contains things that don't appear in the book. For example, Peter isn't on the Queer Student Council in any scenes in the book, though the narration mentions it in passing, nor does he seem to occupy any leadership positions during the course of the story. Chris's “innocent overtures” are not innocent or clueless, either, in my opinion.

Chris is a college soccer player who takes a single room with a very, very thin wall between his and the single room next door, where a student named Peter lives. Peter and Chris once shared a tent at a new student camping trip, and in his sleep, Chris ended up snuggled very close to Peter, who is gay and out and was amused though a bit baffled at waking up in such a fashion. When Chris realizes he's moved in next door to Peter, someone he's tried not to think about for a few months now, Chris has to face his attraction to Peter, and what it means.

As I said, I was really curious about the story, the idea of someone having to face coming out and dealing with it on a college campus-  and as a member of a sports team, and the semi-privacy of the single dorm room with a wall so thin they can whisper and hear one another (How did no one complain about that wall before?).

The characters and the descriptions veer in an out-of-control fashion from cliched banality to over-the-top uber-passion, and I had a hard time accepting either extreme. Regardless of whether Chris was referring to Peter in his internal thinking as “the other guy” or talking about the clothes dryer, I was confused:

Chris stood abruptly, wanting to move around and distract himself as he always did when he thought about that thing. It was nothing, really. He'd just had a perfectly natural reaction to being in close quarters with the other guy. Hell, Chris still sometimes got hard from the hum of the clothes dryer – it didn't mean he was gay.

I honestly have no idea why Chris would whip a stiff one over the clothes dryer hum. Either I missed a reference to hot laundry earlier in the book, or the quote was supposed to make more sense to me than it did for some reason. Either way, my understanding of Chris is that he's frustrated by his inability to control his attraction to Peter, and he might possibly have a laundry fetish – and he refers to Peter as “the other guy” a lot. Repeatedly. 

There was also a lack of other characters in the story that were as dimensional as Chris and Peter, and given that the two of them weren't that well-developed to begin with, it was like they went to a college where all the other students were thinner than cardboard. They were like FatHead wall graphics: peel and stick for character interaction. They showed up to move the story forward, but weren't always individuals in their own right. 

There were also descriptions meant to create empathy that didn't seem true given the actual conversations these characters had with one another. I would be told something but saw no evidence of it in the character's conversations. For example, at one point, despite not seeing Peter for quite awhile after that night in the tent, Chris thinks to himself:

“It was weird, but Chris had sort of missed the other guy. Not like he and Peter had been close other than that one evening around the campfire, and the night that followed. But there weren't too many people in Chris's life who didn't want him to do or be something.”

What people?! There weren't that many people in Chris's life (or Peter's) in the story telling Chris what to do. There weren't that many people in the story, period. Who was telling Chris what to do? And there weren't any scenes otherwise that indicated Chris had rather unrealistic feelings of loss after a night in a tent with someone he doesn't speak to again. Missed him WHY? Did they have some deep heartfelt conversation in that tent? Was there something that happened besides spooning in their sleep that I missed? I kept backing up to re-read pages because I was convinced I missed something, but I suspect what might have been missing was realistic emotional continuity.

The switching between mundane and outlandish continued through each chapter. If Peter or Chris thought about how aroused they were, the prose so often trod confidently into Land of the Ridiculous that I had to stop reading and re-read again to make sure I hadn't misread. The descriptions were also often bizarre:

“That, and his body was reaching to the conversation, his dick plumping in his jeans.”

Plumping? My mental image: Ballpark Franks.

[Peter] “turned on the music queued up in his stereo and skinned off his clothes.”

OUCH.

Chris is also described in terms that bothered the hell out of me. Twice in the opening chapters, Chris, who is blonde and blue-eyed, is described as having “all-American” good looks. First, I don't know how that phrase could get more tiresome, to say nothing of the fact that it's meaningless and somewhat offensive. I'm not blonde, nor am I a male soccer player. Does that make me less representative of what “America” looks like?

And here's Peter, describing himself: “Peter, on the other hand, looked like every tall, skinny, Jewish queer on campus.”

0_o What does that even MEAN? What do tall skinny Jewish queers look like? Do they have peyos? A yarmukle? Glasses? Large noses? That description didn't tell me anything more than “all-American” did. 

I didn't care about the characters mostly because I felt like I was beat over the head with descriptions of arousal, of what the characters were thinking, or what they thought of each other. For example, in one scene, Peter imitates Chris's Southern accent, and Chris narrates:

“It was funny as hell how Peter did those stupid imitations. Some of them were dead-on, but others were just dorky.”

My thought: if the characters have to tell me that it's funny, it's probably not.

I'd started reading this book because I was curious about the emotional development of the characters, but that was not the emphasis of the prose. The prose told me about everything but their emotions, and what I was told didn't match what was happening when the characters spoke to one another.

I had to stop reading when I came upon this description:

Every few seconds he'd notice the sexy flash of Peter's eyes or the way Peter carried himself like he could fuck a corn dog through a keyhole.

WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? Is that a typo? Is he supposed to suck the corn dog through the keyhole? Why would one wish to in any way enter a keyhole with a corndog?

I even Googled it, and found “so buck toothed he could eat corn-on-the-cob through a key hole” but I am no closer to understanding what type of sexual confidence Peter is meant to be displaying. (There is also a whopper of a typo when, as Peter is rimming Chris, “the way Chris twisted and moaned was too good, too wonton.”)

At that point, I wanted to stop reading the book altogether, but the emotional content I was looking for was just past the corn dog.

That's not a euphemism.

Chris realizes that he's very attracted to Peter, and having had some intense sexual interactions with them, he struggles with realizing that he might be gay – I wonder that there's no exploring of the question that he might be bisexual, given that it seemed from the narration from Chris' perspective that he'd never been very attracted to another man before meeting Peter.

The emotional nuances of the characters were muddled and difficult to decipher because the reliance on bizarre or cliche description, and there isn't much depth to any of the characters, not even the ancillary ones. The main characters are confused and confident in alternating roles. The gay best friend is a typically flamboyant gay best friend with moments of not-well-hidden seriousness to underscore the flamboyance and render his character straight out of stock casting. The homophobic soccer player is a homophobic soccer player, with teammates who play minor roles in Chris' coming out process instead of being actual people.

There were moments that were touching, such as when Peter and Chris have a quiet conversation through their shared wall (that must have been made of paper) and Peter is nearly holding his breath over whether Chris will continue talking to him.  Later, Peter's flamboyant – except with the plot calls for seriousness – gay best friend Nathaniel tells Peter about Tom, a person he'd fallen for in high school, and why Tom's deciding to come out when he did may have been a huge mistake that derailed his life. If more of the story had been made of those quiet moments that explored and explained the perils and strengths of deciding to be who you are  – or deciding to hide awhile longer – I would have had a better understanding of the emotions of both Peter and Chris. Chris moved into a single room because he wanted to get away from the soccer team because he was grieving for his mother, who died shortly before the story begins, but once Chris and Peter start moving toward one another, Chris' grief isn't mentioned again. It's a convenient reason for him to move from one dorm to another, but it's not enough to possibly confuse the reasons for his attraction to Peter? The grief that had caused him to move to another room just disappeared. 

I liked that the story was trying to be a sweet and emotional romance between two men who were still figuring out their sexuality. I liked that Chris struggled with his instinct to hide who he was with, and hide what it meant from other guys on his soccer team, because he knew that trying to hide himself and his relationship would hurt Peter's feelings, even if Peter understood the feelings Chris was having. It is a big deal to both of them that Chris has to face the larger implications of being with Peter and deal with the emotional and social fallout of who he's kissing.

But most of their interactions are short when they're in public, and sexual when they're not. By the time they acknowledge that they're drawn to one another, most of the focus is on their sexual interaction, and not the emotional development of their relationship alongside the sexual.

Spoiler (highlight to read):There is also a we-can-forgo-condoms-because-we-love-each-other-and-haven't-done-the-anal-thing-with-anyone-else scene, as well as a very quick jump to love and commitment that didn't seem plausible, given the number of pages and scenes that separated Chris' outright terror at being outed and Chris' declarations of love. Between that and the corndog, I had lost my ability to believe in the story or the characters.

The moments of clarity, introspection, and sensitivity were overshadowed by the plumping corndogs of bizarre description, and left me feeling very dissatisfied and irritated. I wanted to like it, but the unevenness of the prose and of the descriptions, the huge jumps in emotional progress in the protagonists' relationship, and the lack of consistent emotional development were too much for me.


This book is available only from BookStrand.com.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    KellianneRumsey says:

    christ I think I hurt something laughing at that corndog excerpt. what a terrifying image.

  2. 2

    I honestly have no idea why Chris would whip a stiff one over the clothes dryer hum. Either I missed a reference to hot laundry earlier in the book, or the quote was supposed to make more sense to me than it did for some reason.

     

    Maybe because the dryer’s humming is accompanied by vibrations as the machine spins the clothes?

  3. 3
    Mikou says:

    As an alternative to this one, I would suggest “Frat Boy and Toppy” by Anne Tenino. The main character is also an college athlete who comes out while living on a college campus (in a frat house, of course). I thought it was funny and sweet.. but not too sweet.

  4. 4
    hechicera says:

    There is also a whopper of a typo when, as Peter is rimming Chris, “the way Chris twisted and moaned was too good, too wonton.”

    Maybe someone told the author that the book lacked ethnic variety.

  5. 5
    Mandi says:

    I liked this one more than you, but the corn dog thing made me LOL..hard. I have no idea what that means. LOLOL.

    And I agree about the blurb vs. the book.

    I think Chris’s coming out – not only to his friends/teammates but to HIMSELF felt weak. There could have been so much more done with that. But for just an easy read with smexin’ between the walls, it worked for me.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    It could be, but the description has no point of origin, such as why the sound of the clothes dryer would yield his physical reaction. It required a lot of thought on my part to understand why the clothes dryer would be a reason for bonering.

    I spun myself around a lot writing this review, because I liked some parts of it very much, but there were moments like that one where I said, out loud, “Wait, what?”

  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    I saw your Goodreads tweet earlier this week and thought to myself, What’d I miss?! Our tastes usually line up closer than this one.

    You’re right, I think, about the giant fear of being out vs. the relatively easy aftermath of his coming out, too. It was not the strongest part of the story. I definitely wanted more than smexytimes between the walls – I thought their conversations were more emotionally compelling and sexually tense than their actual encounters.

  8. 8
    snarkhunter says:

    Fuck a corndog through a keyhole?

    That’s a definition of confidence I never, ever saw coming.

    …I think there’s a bad unintentional pun in that sentence. I’m going to pretend I don’t see it.

  9. 9
    Ms. L says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever been more disturbed by the word ‘plump’ (or ‘plumping’ in this case) or by images of corn dogs for that matter!

  10. 10
    Jenny Lyn says:

    I’m going to second Mikou’s suggestion that you read “Frat Boy and Toppy” by Anne Tenino. The plot is somewhat similar to this one, one’s openly gay, the other’s in the closet. It was not without a few issues but it’s laugh out loud funny in several spots and very well written. I’d love to see you review it here, Sarah!

  11. 11
    Kelriiafrettlar says:

    The dryer thing seems obvious to me, though not particularly flattering: dryers vibrate. He’s implying that he’s easily stimulated by vibrations, and that feeling aroused by being near Peter isn’t significant (though he’s clearly in denial about it).

  12. 12
    Ladybookworm61882 says:

    with one one of them being jewish I hope it was a all beef kosher corndog

  13. 13
    Deb G. says:

    Ummmm….I have never met a Jewish person named Peter. We’re generally about the Old Testament names. Now, I’m not saying that there probably aren’t Jewish Peters out there, but Jason, Scott, or Mike would have been way more likely.

  14. 14
    ChristopherCLara says:

    I definitely wanted more than smexytimes between the walls – I thought their conversations were more emotionally compelling and sexually tense than their actual encounters.

    http://goo.gl/QFHt4

  15. 15
    Rosa E. says:

    “Plumping corndogs of bizarre description.” I can honestly say I never expected to read those words in my entire life, although they may have won my informal mental competition for World’s Worst Verbing Noun of X. (The previous winner was “dripping meat curtains of love.”)

  16. 16
    kkw says:

    Maybe the point of the dryer is not that it is somehow sexy, but that it isn’t – guys sometimes just get hard at random, particularly when young, although I think of it as more of a junior high than college thing, but that’s all the explanation I’ve got.
    As far as the corn dog…my vote would be for it being a typo, because sucking strength is often subject to charming hyperbole (I’ve heard chrome off a trailer hitch, golfball through a mile of garden hose, so why not corndog through a keyhole?).  Or maybe it’s illustrative of impressive pelvis thrusting?  Perhaps he could hammer it in as though with a baseball bat?  Hard to imagine how his carriage conveys any of the above without him looking more like a candidate for the ministry of silly walks.  But it takes all kinds.
    My apartment walls are certainly thin enough to have a whispered conversation through.  Since my bedroom is next to the neighbor’s bathroom, we try not to communicate that way, but we surely could.  Used to be a guy lived there who we called Fuckpiss, because…well, anyway, that part of the story needn’t strain credulity.

  17. 17
    SB Sarah says:

    ‘Fuckpiss?’ Oh, my. That’ll be a bad erotica title very soon.

  18. 18
    Shawnyj says:

    I third the recommendation for Frat Boy and Toppey. A bit predictable, but adorable.

  19. 19
    DONNA says:

    When I was in elementary school (many years ago), one of the first series recommended to me by my librarian was by Marilyn Sachs. One of the books, Peter and Veronica, was about thebudding friendship between a bully; Veronica and a smaller Jewish boy – Peter. I’m not Jewish and never would have realized that this wasn’t common.  It was a memorable series for me though and really fueled my interest in learning more about Jewish culture even back then.

  20. 20
    DONNA says:

    When I was in elementary school (many years ago), one of the first series recommended to me by my librarian was by Marilyn Sachs. One of the books, Peter and Veronica, was about thebudding friendship between a bully; Veronica and a smaller Jewish boy – Peter. I’m not Jewish and never would have realized that this wasn’t common.  It was a memorable series for me though and really fueled my interest in learning more about Jewish culture even back then.

  21. 21
    kkw says:

    Good old Fuckpiss.  He definitely makes the list of Worst Neighbors Ever, although sadly he does not top it.  When we moved in, the guy across the hall introduced himself with the information that he liked whores.  As in: ‘my name is Bob. I like whores.’  Only I don’t remember what his name really was. It was a bit of a conversation stumper for me, but my guy has exquisite manners, and introduced us in return, adding cheerfully ‘I like ice cream.’  Whenever our neighbor went to pee, there would first be the sound of a fist pounding the wall a couple of times, followed by a heartfelt ‘fuuuck’ and then the stream of urine.  Doesn’t make me think erotic, but maybe he and the barque(s) of frailty with whom he shared the infection work through their recriminations and live HEA?

  22. 22
    Vicki says:

    kkw, your description of your neighbor’s “fuckpiss” suggests an STI. Easy to pick up if you “like whores.” By the time it becomes hard to pee, we are talking unhappiness at the doctor’s office. I used to tell teen boys about this as incentive to use condoms.

  23. 23
    Alan230 says:

    There’s a story somewhere about a young woman and her attraction to the clothes dryer. Can’t remember the name. Sitting on top of dryer while it was running, and really enjoying the vibrations, was her thing.

  24. 24
    Lizwadsworth65 says:

    Good lord, this sounds like the most hilarious thing ever.  Thanks for the laugh!

  25. 25
    Kim says:

    You are killing me.  I love gay romance, but I will skip this one.  I just finished Clouds and Rain by Zahra Owens, and I recommend it.

  26. 26
    Trix says:

    I agree with the STI theory, but not so much the whores, unless there are legions of them who refuse condoms wherever it is.

    In Westernised countries, it’s the sex workers who are the most aware of proper condom use compared to the rest of the population (esp post-HIV), while students can be grubby little buggers amongst themselves.

    So as an indication of the guy’s level of sexual activity and perhaps risk-taking behaviour, sure. The whores themselves as the STI source? Probably not so much.

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