REVIEW: Relationship Material by Jenya Keefe

The descriptive bit: Evan Doyle is a registered nurse living with a panic disorder that is all part of the history he carries with him. It’s a history no one knows about because Evan’s life has been reinvented after a violent and traumatic past. It was a past that even forced Evan to abandon what was left of his family. One day Evan’s twin sister is suddenly standing in front of him. It’s an accidental reunion and one that Evan wasn’t sure would ever happen.

The reunion brings up Evan’s past at the same time as it introduces him to his sister, Caroline’s, best friend… a man named Mal.

As Evan and Caroline try to sort out the past and how they can be in each others’ lives, Evan is also struggling with a budding relationship with Mal. Mal is a lawyer, seems put-together and strong and he seems interested in Evan. Evan isn’t into long-term connections with people and his sex life is limited by the routines he has developed to protect himself. They fit together…and they don’t, and everything gets very complicated.

My thoughts bit: This was a lovely book. The two main characters left me with tears in my eyes more than once as they struggled to navigate the treacherous waters of Evan’s trauma and on-going recovery. This is about more than the central (and hot!) romance; it’s about healing, family and the way we navigate life. This book is also about power and control: what do we really have control over? What gives someone power?

Not having experienced any sexual or violent trauma myself, I can’t speak to how accurate the subject matter of this book is. It does read as well thought out and well-intentioned. This book might be triggering for anyone who has lived through a similar experience.

One of the things I appreciated most was that Evan is a registered nurse. I know from personal experience that people will often ask those living with panic/anxiety hor they are able to “do a job” that some perceive as stressful. I loved the way that Evan was able to explain that he enjoyed his work. The descriptions of panic and anxiety seemed true to my experience of them, and I appreciated that the author consistently gave Evan a voice that was confident even when he was uncertain.

As walled off and uncertain Evan is, Mal is also a flawed character and I liked that the author put them on level ground with one another. If there’s a lesson to be learned from the slowly evolving romance in this book, it’s that we are all imperfect and none of us can know what those around us have lived through.

The relationship between Mal and Evan was sweet, caring and complex. Despite the brevity of this novel, I found that I was definitely invested in these characters and how or if things would work out. My only regret is that the book wasn’t longer. I would have loved to have watched this author tackle some of the on-going issues that would come up when dealing with a past tainted by such violence, loss, and trauma.

As full of sadness and trauma as this story is, I loved it. There’s hope laced throughout Evan’s story, even from the fragile beginnings.

The warnings bit: Please be aware, I’m by no means an expert on what may or may not have the potential to disturb people. I simply list things that I think a reader might want to be aware of.

In this book: Child Abuse (past), Drug Use (references to past interaction with drug users/drug dealers), Emotional Abuse Explicit Violence (past), Eating Disorder (past), Non-Consent (Discussion of past incident), Self-Harm (references), Sexual Assault (Discussion of past assault), vivid descriptions of panic/anxiety, infidelity (discussion of past relationships with married people), power imbalance during sexual interactions (all consensual when current)

I received an ARC of Relationship Material by Jenya Keefe from Riptide publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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