REVIEW: To Be Alive by B. Rourke

The Official Description:  At twenty-two years old, Rhett Hawkins lives a life full of secrets and lies. Nobody knows the truth about his childhood growing up in an abusive home, the eating disorder that threatens to take his life, the obsessive thoughts about death that play like a movie in the back of his mind, and the sexuality he hides.

Nobody until he meets Colt, that is.

Police Constable Colt Williams is the only person ever took the time to look past the lies and see Rhett for who he really is: a damaged, beautiful young man desperate for love and acceptance. When Colt steps in and tries to get him help, Rhett makes a choice that takes him further away from life than he’s ever been before.

With his world turned upside down and his secrets laid bare for all to see, Rhett realizes it’s only by facing death that he can learn what it truly means to be alive.

Just the facts: M/M romance, dark, please read warnings

Rhett Hawkins comes from a world of pain and abuse. He’s been taught everything he is … is wrong. Until he meets Colt. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit:  This is my introduction to B. Rourke, and I believe their debut novel. I’m always pleased to support the diversity of authors/stories at NineStar press so I signed up to review this one.

Rhett Hawkins comes from a world of pain. His childhood was horrendous and I would encourage everyone to read the warnings that are, as always, provided by the publisher at the beginning of the book. Basically, Rhett has been taught that everything he is… is wrong. His mother used nasty insults, and both physical and emotional abuse to berate and attack him when he was a child.

It’s clear very quickly in “To Be Alive” that the main character, Rhett is dealing with an eating disorder and possibly other mental health issues. He gets “stuck” in the bathroom at the very beginning of the book while counting the bones in his body. the wall of protection he has built around himself is by gaining control over the way his body feels and looks. He sticks to a regimented food schedule… and is starving himself “safe”.

The story begins with Rhett going to a gay club with his friend. Even though he is “straight”, Rhett supports his friend Dylan. The thing is… Rhett isn’t straight. There’s just no way he would ever admit to anyone that his mother was right with the horrible names she used to hurl at him. While at the club, Rhett meets Colt. And, for some reason, Colt is able to break through the walls that Rhett has so painstakingly constructed throughout his life.

Colt is an interesting character. He doesn’t push even though it’s pretty clear from the moment they meet that he knows that Rhett is complex. Colt doesn’t push, but he does insist upon one thing: the truth. He becomes a “safe place” for Rhett… before Rhett is even really aware that he doesn’t have one.

Not surprisingly, Rhett has been living a lie most of his life. He’s not out to his friends, he dismisses any concerns about his food, and he always has an excuse if he’s consumed by his obsessive behavior. In a way, all the coping mechanisms that Rhett has developed show how strong he is. I’ve always believed that characters as complex as Rhett aren’t “dysfunctional”; they’re functioning the only way they can. Sometimes, the fact that someone keeps going at all… is impressive.

Without giving away the details of Rhett’s past, suffice to say it’s a miracle he’s alive at all. He’s an artist, creative, caring, sweet and his friends mean a great deal to him. The fact that he continues to hide his truth from the people closest to him, is just another manifestation of the pain that he’s dealing with. Colt sums up the situation best in the latter half of the book when he describes Rhett’s life as a “shame spiral”. The way that shame and guilt play into our fears and our insecurities is a huge theme in this book. It’s subtle but it’s woven into everything that surrounds Rhett’s storyline.

The author has done a wonderful job with such sensitive topics. I did feel the therapy at the end of the book was a bit short and abrupt. Therapy for someone like Rhett would take far longer and be far more challenging than it’s depicted here. But, the short length of the book may have played into some of the author’s/ editor’s choices. Rourke definitely gets the point across: Rhett is broken and needs to heal from many things.

I wouldn’t say this book was enjoyable. I really felt emotionally connected to Rhett. His pain was very visceral and well-written. I was hoping for something to help him from the moment I began reading. Rourke did a wonderful job of bringing his character to life. So… enjoyable? Not really, even though there are adorable and funny moments. Why? Because it’s heart-hurty. Worth reading? Absolutely.

Things You May Want To Know: 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: (SPOILERS) sexually explicit, abuse of a child (in past, some descriptions), attempted murder by a parent, eating disorder (thoughts/behavior/health), mental illness, forced hospitalization, drug addiction, homophobic slurs, near-death of the main character, descriptions of nausea

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of To Be Alive by B. Rourke from NineStar Press via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

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