Title : Spencer
Series : Survivor Stories, Book #3
Author : J.P. Barnaby
Publisher : Dreamspinner Press (BUY HERE)
Genre : M/M, Contemporary
Length : 216 pages (e-book)
Published : March 21, 2014
Rating : ★★★★1/2
A Survivor Story
It’s been nearly five years since Aaron woke up in the hospital so broken, he couldn’t stand the sight of his own face. The flashbacks no longer dominate his life, but he’s still unable to find intimacy with his lover, Spencer Thomas. With time, patience, and the support of his family, his therapist, and his loving partner, Aaron has figured out how to live again. The problem is, Spencer hasn’t. His life has been on hold as he waits for the day he and Aaron can have a normal relationship. Hoping to move things forward for them both, he takes a job as a programmer in downtown Chicago, leaving Aaron alone.
Reeling in the wake of Spencer’s absence, Aaron receives another shock when his attackers are caught.
Now, he must testify and verbalize his worst nightmare. Publicly reliving his trauma without Spencer at his side destroys his precarious control. But he finds someone who can understand and empathize in Jordan, who watched his brother cut down in a school shooting. With Spencer gone and the DA knocking at his door, Aaron seeks solace in Jordan, and Spencer will have to risk everything to hold on to Aaron’s love.
Spencer is the third book in the Survivor Stories and I highly recommend you read the first one, Aaron, before reading this one. The second book, Painting Fire On The Air, is told from Juliette’s brother’s POV and does give some more insight into what happened to her and Aaron and the trial, but isn’t necessary to understanding this book.
Three years have passed since Aaron and Spencer found each other, and five since Aaron survived his horrific ordeal of rape, torture and being left for dead that left him with mental, emotional and physical scars. Spencer is now twenty-one and about to finish college when he is contacted by Eric Stancel, the Senior Development Lead for Voyager Technologies in Chicago. Voyager wants to purchase Spaaron, the software Spencer and Aaron have developed together as part of their college course, and employ both Spencer and Aaron as technical leads on the project as it is readied for market, although one of them coming on board will do as part of the deal. The catch for Spencer is that it means a move from where they live outside of Chicago right into the city itself, and he knows that Aaron is just not ready for that. Can Spencer leave Aaron behind? And if he can, will their relationship survive the separation it would entail? Both Aaron and Spencer agree that it’s an opportunity that is too good to pass up and they decide to give it a go. I really felt for Spencer, having to decide between taking an amazing opportunity that would go a long way to setting he (and Aaron) up in life, both financially and career-wise, when taking the job meant leaving Aaron behind or staying with Aaron and letting such a fantastic deal slip by.
While Spencer is in Chicago, Aaron finds himself at a loss and struggling to cope with day to day life again without the solid support of Spencer there. When the police make contact to say they had caught the three men who had attacked Aaron and Juliette and were also responsible for killing six other teenagers, the thought of testifying against them, and the fears and shame of having all the details of what they did to him made public, is completely overwhelming. He takes the suggestion of his therapist and checks out some online support groups for PTSD. There he meets Jordan, who was witness to the killing of his twin brother in a school shooting, when he leaves a comment on Jordan’s post. When they start chatting, he quickly feels a bond with Jordan as a fellow suffer of PTSD.
The lead up to the trial is brutal for Aaron. Having to re-live the details of his ordeal over and over as his therapist attempts to desensitise Aaron to it in order to make him ready for court is brutal and without Spencer there for him during it puts an enormous strain on their relationship as Aaron is left feeling adrift without an anchor. Meanwhile, Spencer is also struggling with their separation and the growing feeling of drifting apart as they struggle with the distance and the extremely slow progress in any physical intimacy in their relationship.
Spencer isn’t as gut-wrenchingly intense as Aaron was, but it does still pack an emotional wallop. It’s more about them finding their way together as much as it is about Aaron’s battles. Both Aaron and Spencer have their doubts and struggles, but in the end this book is truly about them navigating those internal and external obstacles. Their absolute love for each other is always there and makes them fight for their relationship, even when it’s against themselves. It was good to see the progress Aaron had made, and continues to make, since the first book even with his steps back and inability to see clearly how far he has come. He still lacks the belief in himself that he can eventually have a broader life and probably doesn’t push himself as much as he could because of it. I loved the little tie-in reminder of the real life blog the author has for the character of Aaron.
I did have some issues with the book, such as contradictions (for instance, it says that they never went to the movies when it was stated a few pages earlier that they go to the occasional close captioned one), and in the first part of the book there’s a fair amount of over-explanation of things that aren’t important which pulled me out of the story a bit. And there were a few inconsistencies (for example, if the police had a much stronger case with another set of victims to convict the murderers with “stronger evidence and no variables”, what was the point of having Aaron testify if his case was strong enough on its own merit yet the other case is even stronger than his? Why not just go with the other case? It didn’t make sense). It also took me a while to get used to how Spencer’s vocal speech is represented with full-stops between every single word, but I did get how it was trying to mimic the cadence of a hearing impaired person’s vocal patterns. I wish that Aaron’s fear of his attackers still being free as one of the main driving forces behind his extreme anxieties had been more emphasised throughout the book. The lack of it made his turn around towards the end just a little too miraculous, although he was by no means suddenly cured of all his issues. I also had some issues with Dr Thomas; his treatment of Aaron and his feeding of information to Spencer.
I may have had some minor issues with some of the writing, but the character development is truly outstanding. One part where an incident with Spencer while he’s away in Chicago to he and Aaron’s struggles to be intimate in the face of Aaron’s fears of it, those scenes, from club to end, show just how good the writing can be when it doesn’t fall into over explaining. Completely real, gut-wrenching emotion. Seeing their struggles to make their relationship last through those issues broke my heart at times.
I really did love these two, and they and their story continued to worm its way into my heart despite the somewhat slow start. Once we got into the meat of the story, about a third of the way in, the little things I found had been stopping me from completely falling into the story eased off as the pacing improved and the author just told her story simply and powerfully. By the end, I was totally caught up in Spencer and Aaron’s lives and hoping and wishing for the best right alongside them. The epilogue did give some resolution, but I was still left feeling like I wanted to know more of what happens to them, see more of Aaron’s growth, and their growth as a couple. I’m not left with a clear image of their future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with things not being neatly tied up. In fact, I prefer them not to be but, especially having been told instead of shown too much in the first part of the book, the ending felt a little too unfinished. Aaron still has a long way to go, as he should, because the trauma he is really only just truly coming to terms with isn’t something that is overcome quickly or easily, and I hope this isn’t the last we see of Aaron and Spencer.
Rated 4.5 stars by BookSmitten