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Review of Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble

Just Between Us

Awhile back, I wrote a review of J.H. Trumble’s book “Don’t Let Me Go” during which I expressed how much I loved that book. I was delighted to see that the Goodread’s Young Adult LGBT fiction group featured another of her books, Just Between Us” for February’s read – not that I needed an excuse to read another of this wonderful author’s books.

Luke is Back!

I was pleased to see a familiar face – seventeen year old Luke Chesser, who served as a secondary character in Don’t Let Me Go. This time, he gets his own book…well, sort of….he shares it with Curtis Cameron (more on him in a bit). While it certainly can be helpful to have read Don’t Let Me Go, it is not necessary – this book stands entirely on its own.

That being said, in “Just Between Us” we see Luke, still freshly heartbroken from the Adam/Nate debacle in the first book, now living in Texas with his mother (I was relived to see his abusive father out of the picture – at least for the time being). He is still very much involved with the marching band at his new high school and during practice, notices the handsome and charming nineteen year-old Curtis Cameron, the new band field tech who had graduated from the same high school. Luke plays hard to get at first but it doesn’t take long before Curtis’s charming way digs right into Luke’s heart and he find himself falling hard for Curtis – and Curtis for him. The two become inseparable….for awhile.

Curtis

Curtis attempts to convince himself that Luke is too young, that he doesn’t want to get involved with a high school student. But he can’t help himself…Luke is just too darned sweet and shy. But before their relationship has a chance to get off the ground, Curtis receives a shocking phone-call while at a family gathering from his ex-lover who accuses Curtis of infecting him with HIV.

Curtis blows it off, not taking the call seriously although it is still in the back of his mind. He finds himself reluctant to take his and Luke’s relationship to the next level just in case. Luke, realizing that Curtis is avoiding physical intimacy, begins pressuring Curtis even more. Curtis finally breaks down and gets tested so he can, with a clear conscience, begin a relationship with Luke.

The World Comes Crashing Down

Curtis discovers he’s HIV Positive. Ashamed and horrified, he refuses to begin treatment, living in what can best be classified as a state of denial. His life spirals downward and he inadvertently cuts himself off from Luke and his supportive family because of his own shame and self-loathing. But moreover, he decides that he cannot – and will not – ever consider having a relationship with Luke. He simply cannot risk infecting this sweet young man with this terrible disease. So before it even begins, their budding relationship is over as Curtis erects more and more impenetrable walls between him and Luke.

This is where the reading gets tough. As a reader, I found it excruciating at times to take this journey with Curtis, watching him self-destruct before our eyes. Being a product of the 80’s, I lost many dear friends to AIDS so I found this book exceptionally difficult to get through in places, as it brought up memories of people whose lives were cut way too short. Luckily, times are different these days and if the patient begins treatment in time, most can expect to live a long life. I applaud the author for presenting timely, well-researched information on HIV and attempting to clear up the many misconceptions surrounding this disease.

Everyone Finds Out

Luke learns the truth about why Curtis had practically cut him out of his life and lashes out in anger and hurt at Curtis. It is about this time that Curtis makes it very clear that they will never have a relationship together. Against his better judgment, Luke promises not to tell Curtis’s family about the illness. We continue to witness Curtis’s slow decline, which is utterly heartbreaking in and of itself, but equally upsetting to watch is his complete rejection of Luke, who is willing to stand by his side no matter what, throughout the good and the bad.

Finally, due to circumstances out of the control of Curtis’, the cat is out of the bag – his family learns the truth.

The Verdict

This was an incredibly touching portrayal of a young man who finds out he is HIV positive. The characters are extremely well-developed and I felt that the reader could really relate to everything Curtis was going thorough – including his shame, fear, disgust, self-pity and self-hatred. While one may not agree with Curtis’s methods, one can certainly understand his fear of infecting the young man that he had grown to love with a potentially life-threatening disease. The character of Luke, who was portrayed as clingy and somewhat needed in Don’t Let Me Go ended up being the adult in the relationship and was called upon to make some tough decisions.

This story made me laugh in places, cry in places and often, wished I could wring Curtis’s neck until he came to his senses. The characters in this novel, including the secondary ones, truly come to life on the pages in all their tenacity, shame, love, hate, fear and human follies. This compelling and powerful character-driven story tackled a sensitive issue with expertise and compassion .

My only niggle with the book – and it’s a personal preference niggle – was that it is written using multiple first point of view; that is to say, one chapter is told from Curtis’s first person perspective while the next is told from Luke’s. I found this a little bit distracting and a couple of times, had to peek back at the beginning of the chapter to refresh my memory on whose mind we were seeing the world through.

Just Between Us is not a light and fluffy feel-good type of read but rather is a heartfelt and at times, raw & gritty peak into the life of a college student recently diagnosed with HIV and the young man who chooses to love him regardless. Recommended!!

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