Author: CJane Elliott
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Pages/Word Count: 264 Pages
At a Glance: The story was a bit of a ramble for me, but there were definitely some winning elements to this installment.
Reviewed By: Sammy
Blurb: Shy guy Jed Carter has always felt invisible next to his charismatic older brother, Kent. Kent’s master plan for Jed is simple: University of Virginia, fraternity, business, sports, and ladies’ man. None of it is Jed, except for playing on the rugby team, which he joins in defiance of soccer-loving Kent. Jed comes out in his sophomore year and starts seeing Pete, an attractive junior, who uses him for sex and videogames. Jed wants more—in life and in love—and starts making his own plans. First on the list: getting to know Charlie, the handsome guy working at the local videogame arcade.
Charlie Ambrose has always felt like an oddball, and not just for his tendency to stutter. Being gay sets him apart from his African-American community, and as a “townie,” he doesn’t fit in with the college crowd. Charlie’s inspiration is his cousin, Morocco, who’s transgender and doesn’t give a fig about fitting in. Art is Charlie’s passion, and when a local videogame designer discovers him, Charlie’s living a dream. The only thing he’s missing is love. But the last person Charlie expects to find it with is a cute, white U.Va. rugby player named Jed.
Review: Author CJane Elliott has released the third in her Serpentine series, Sex, Love, and Videogames. Interestingly, this one could be read as a standalone and does not hinge on the first two having been read to lend it continuity. Having read the others, the setting (University of Virginia) was once again represented well, and the college atmosphere was spot on. The story was a bit of a ramble for me, but there were definitely some winning elements to this installment.
Jed has followed, reluctantly, in his big brother Kent’s footsteps most of his life. The “plan” now is for the two of them to be in an on campus frat together, along with Kent’s best buddy, Tucker. Unfortunately, as Jed’s freshman year gets underway, the stress of hiding his sexuality from his brother and the realization that he really doesn’t want to follow in Kent’s footsteps comes crashing down on Jed. When he accidentally outs himself to the frat, things seem to ease up a bit, albeit slowly. Unfortunately for Jed, finding a boyfriend is not as easy as he is assured it should be by his best friend, Myesha. The one boy he does like seems to treat him as a dirty little secret despite being openly out himself. For Jed, life is not the dream he had hoped it would be, and his self-esteem plummets more and more as he moves through the year into his second; unattached, lonely, and questioning whether he will ever find someone to love.
In town, Charlie Ambrose wiles away the hours wishing for so much more in his life. Occasional clandestine meetings with a school friend leave him wanting more than hurried and secretive blowjobs. He wishes he could be like his cousin, Morocco, a transgender whirlwind who constantly pushes at Charlie to come out, pursue his talent for art, and live the life he so desperately wants. But Charlie’s fears as a half white/half black man in the African American community, along with his sexuality, make him so very fearful that he will never fit in. Stuck with a painful stutter when he is stressed, Charlie prefers to hide and not make waves.
When these two boys meet, life seems to continually pull them apart until a rally for the LGBT community finds them working together, and then sparks begin to fly. But can two young men who see themselves as only inferior and lost find the courage to be together?
Sex, Love, and Videogames had many good elements. CJane Elliott excels at painting her characters with a realistic brush and allowing us to get inside their heads to see what makes them tick. I felt I really understood the fears both of these guys faced and how similar their struggles were with fitting into a world that seemed poised to condemn them. I also appreciated how the boys were just that—boys who still needed their friends and family to help them as they grappled with their futures, their career paths and their coming out. I loved the fact that there were strong female characters and not the typical screeching harridans we so often see in m/m novels. The fact that Morocco was a transitioning/questioning transgender leant depth to the story in many ways, and allowed us to see a bit of the way families sometimes accept their child’s struggle often by not addressing it.
The story itself seemed to languish at times, and once again I was struck by this author’s tendency to tell us the story rather than putting us in the moment and allowing us to experience it along with her characters. There were huge leaps in time and place so often that I had to stop at times to get my bearings. Major life events were often glossed over—in particular, Morocco’s attack. It was presented as severe enough to cause her to leave school and nearly revert back to being a boy. Yet, there was next to no mention of how she grappled with this horrible attack. One moment she was battered and bruised in the hospital, then she was wearing boys clothing, then suddenly Charlie managed to convince her to come help with the community rally and she was headed back to school the next fall. Yes, there was mention of therapy, but we never saw even a glimpse of the healing process she was undergoing. It’s as if her attack was placed in the story to solidify Charlie’s fears that he would never be accepted. So, that begs the question, why wasn’t Charlie the one attacked? There was certainly enough potential for that plot point to happen since the old school friend Charlie hooked up with sexually was trying to be pulled into a gang—that hates gays. I really felt the story skimmed the life events surrounding Jed and Charlie rather than developing them and using them as a means to mature the two boys. This, coupled with the fact that every roadblock facing them was neatly and conveniently tied up in the last three chapters of the book, made for an unbelievable ending and a lackluster story overall.
With the story being told in alternating points of view, I thought we would get more ‘in the moment action’ rather than a heap of emotional angst and regret each boy seemed to have after nearly every life event and little more than a description of that event from their understanding of what had occurred. Again, the biggest concern with this novel was the author’s way of talking at us—describing what had taken place as an afterthought rather than placing us in the action and allowing us to live there and enjoy the moment.
All in all, Sex, Love, and Videogames had some wonderful characters whose potential was lost in the wake of a sprawling storyline that lacked enough development to make the story as gripping as it could have possibly been.
You can buy Sex, Love, and Videogames here: