Title: Level Hands (Bend or Break #4)
Author: Amy Jo Cousins
Publisher/GR Link: Samhain, GR
Genre: MM Contemporary
Vice: New Adult, Coming Out, Interracial, Atheletes
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Lock this book up : 3 keys out of 5. The sex is hot and supports the storyline.
Cover Impressions: I love it- and all of the other covers too!
Best Line: "You're better at this than I am. Being together."
Synopsis: Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.
The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.
Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction.
But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.
Impressions: I was so excited to see this addition to a series that I love. While all of these books have dealt with flexibility, or the importance of bending, none fit the title as well as this one did. Rafi is a great character, and he holds himself together so tightly. In Chicago, he was the gay kid trying to better himself while he lends support to his sisters. At Carlisle, he is a brown, gay kid who is determined to prove to others that he has earned his place there, even if in his heart he is afraid that he hasn't. He is almost brittle in the way that he holds himself so tightly together, and it is that guard that really shows his inner frailty. He is so afraid of loosening that hold that it almost costs him Denny, a man he isn't sure he can let himself need. Eventually, Rafi realizes that if he does not bend, he will break- quite literally. It is only when he lets his own guard down a little, enough to ask for help, that he is able to really find his strength.
Denny has loved Rafi since he was 17, and he is patient and loving, and so aware of Rafi's battles with himself. He tries to stand up when he is needed, and step back when Rafi's battle with himself gets to be too brutal to allow him in. What made me love Denny is that he knows that he has to be careful of bending too much, and he is clear with Rafi when the bending is getting to hard. This made me really respect and care for Denny, because he wasn't a two dimensional hero for Rafi.
I loved the complexity of Rafi. He faces microagressions and comments from the kids around him, and sometimes it is clear that all he can rely on is his own pride. At a quick glance Rafi might seem overly paranoid or caught up in how others see him, but Rafi is like hundreds of kids that I know and teach on a daily basis. These comments hit Rafi in a place that defies logic, and his self consciousness about his class, his race and his sexuality make total sense. Does he over generalize about all white, preppy kids? Sometimes. Does he feel overly sensitive about how others see him? Yea. But that is all really how Rafi sees the world, and part of that is a defense mechanism that he needs. Rafi's issues are all about perception, not logic. I found him to be a great and relatable character, and I applaud Cousins for creating someone who is so strong and yet so paralyzed by his own fears.
This can be read as a standalone, but why would you do that? Books 1-3 are amazing, and I have it on good authority that there is more of this great series to come.
I'll admit, before the series started I was wary of reading an MF novel (which 3 primarily is) but TRUST ME, you will fall in love with ALL of these guys, and no matter the pairing, all of these books are queer and amazing!