Eighteen-year-old Aaron Pickard is dealing with a lot: he’s falling for his straight best friend, his mother has ended up in the hospital after a violent assault by his father, and he’s trying to decide when to come out. Tack on the stress of an upcoming prom and graduation, a part-time job, and the possibility he could lose his best friend, and he’s an emotional wreck.
Aaron’s best friend Jeff Leaton provides a soft place for him to fall when his life is thrown into chaos, literally holding him each night as they fall asleep. As Jeff helps Aaron navigate through the mess that has become his new normal, Aaron’s feelings for Jeff intensify.
Aaron’s pretty sure it’s all going to end badly, but he’s holding on to hope.
Publisher: JMS Books, LLC
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 4
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 3 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Coming of Age, Death of Parent, First Time, Friends to Lovers
Word Count: 85119
Languages Available: English
- Something was changing between my best friend and me. I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but I would often find him staring at me while we were at work. And I was sure he was touching me more often, which I loved. I hadn’t really put a name to it, but I was pretty sure I was falling hard for Jeff. As weird as it seemed, it also felt so natural. I kept reminding myself he was straight and I was inventing things where there were none.
- Yet every night when we went to bed, we ended up in the same position: on our sides, my back against his chest, his arm around my waist.
Many times I woke up and our fingers were entwined. His warm breath on my neck drove me crazy and there were times I ached to turn in his arms and kiss him. I knew I was playing a dangerous game. I knew it was wrong. I knew he was straight. I knew it all and yet I still fell head over heels for him.
- My grandpa was finally able to take some time and we went out looking for cars. It took a couple of days, but we finally found something I liked that I could afford and Grandpa felt was a good, safe car. I admit, I didn’t really know much about cars, so I deferred to him, but I liked my little black 1999 Honda Civic.
- As we were hanging out playing video games on Jeff’s PS4 the next afternoon, my phone rang and I didn’t recognize the number. I looked at Jeff and shrugged as I answered.
- “Hey, Aaron?”
- “Yes ... who is this?” The voice was vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it.
- “It’s Jon, Kevin’s cousin.”
- “Oh, yeah. What’s up?”
- Jeff was watching me and I mouthed ‘Jon’ to him. It took him a second, but I could tell the second he remembered who Jon was. His lips pressed into a thin, flat line and he paused the game, turning his attention to me.
- “I wanted to see if you were coming to Kevin’s birthday party tomorrow night.”
- God, in all the drama of the last week I had forgotten about it. “Hang on a sec,” I said and muted my phone.
- Jeff was glaring at me. “What the hell does he want?”
- I was a little taken aback by the anger in his voice. “He’s just asking if we’re going to Kevin’s party.”
- “Us? Or
- I had assumed he meant us, but maybe he hadn’t. “Are we or not?”
- He grunted and I took that as a yes. “Yeah, we’ll be there,” I said after I unclicked mute.
- “Jeff,” I answered.
- Jeff rolled his eyes and gave me an ‘I told you so’ look. I blushed and turned back to the phone.
- Jon and I talked a few more minutes and I told him I would see him there and hung up.
- “Let’s get back to the game,” I said as I grabbed my controller.
- “I don’t like that guy,” Jeff said.
- “He’s got the hots for you,” he replied.
- “So?” I looked into his eyes. “Are you saying he shouldn’t? Are you surprised that a cute guy might like me?” I was irked. He was being an ass.
- His anger faltered for a moment before he pulled himself together. “That’s not what I was saying. I just ... don’t like him.”
- “You’re being weird about this. If he wants to ask me out, he can. But he was just asking me about the party. It wasn’t anything like a date. Besides, you said you were in love with someone, remember? I don’t see you calling her and asking her to go with you.”
- He paled and looked back at the television screen. “Whatever.”
- I won the next three games.
Kirsty on Joyfully Jay wrote:
Holding On, I believe, is a must-read book for anyone struggling with their sexuality while dealing with family abandonment and crush issues.
The two main characters, Aaron and Jeff are great guys. At the same time, they can be frustrating. You don't know whether to hug them or rent two eighteen-wheelers to pull their heads out of their asses, or at the very least knock their heads together.
Reading about the struggles Aaron goes through makes me wonder how many other Aarons are out there. How many Aarons are out there without a Jeff in their lives to act as their support system?
How many Jeffs are out there ready and able to help the Aarons?
I can't help but wonder how I managed to make it through without my Jeff. While my home life wasn't completely like Aaron's, it was similar.
In the past I have been in both positions, so it is easy for me to identify with the guys.
Both are lovable and easy to connect with. I'm hoping that Ms. Brook will continue their story.
5 out of 5 stars, and should be on everyone's reading list.
Ilona Fenton on Bonkers About Books wrote:
Aaron is eighteen and about to graduate from high school. One of the most important people in Aaron’s life is his best friend, Jeff, but Aaron is keeping secrets: one, he is gay and in love with Jeff and two, that his father is regularly drunk and abusive.
When Jeff reveals to Aaron that he has found someone he is interested in, Aaron is disappointed but agrees when Jeff suggests they need to talk. After work one evening, when the two are due for this talk, Jeff drops Aaron home only to find Aaron’s house in disarray and Aaron’s mother lying in a pool of blood upstairs, being kicked by his father. Aaron’s life is thrown into chaos when this time he decides to phone the police. With his mother in the hospital, his father in prison, and his younger sister staying with grandparents, Aaron moves into Jeff’s home and with Jeff the only stability in Aaron’s life, Aaron attempts to hide his feelings. When an acquaintance shows an interest in Aaron, Jeff’s reaction resembles jealousy, so is it possible that the two best friends have both been hiding the same secret?
Holding On is a friends to lovers romance story. I really enjoyed the fact that during the first part of Holding On, Sarah Hadley Brook takes time to establish Aaron and Jeff’s friendship. Brook builds a very solid picture of the two young men and their closeness; Jeff is the one who stays beside Aaron at the hospital when his mother is admitted; Jeff holds Aaron through his nightmares and, as a witness, Jeff involves himself in the investigation to prosecute Aaron’s father. As a reader, I found myself comforted by Jeff’s presence in Aaron’s life. Aaron is dealing with loss, grief, and confusion, as well as attempting to continue at school and keep his job. I think I empathized with Aaron more because of the guilt he feels. He was aware of the abuse his father inflicted and did nothing previously. I, however, could not blame Aaron. Brook leaves her reader with no doubt that Aaron loves his mother and sister and that ultimately, Aaron thought his past actions were for the best.
From the beginning of Holding On, we are aware of Aaron’s feelings for Jeff, although Brook allows the anticipation of their romance to increase as the story progresses. I do not think the clues she gives her reader are subtle, though Aaron does not seem to pick up on Jeff’s hints. For example, when Jeff describes the eye color of the person he is interested in:
They are brown and sort of golden with some flecks of green in them. I guess you would say hazel. They’re beautiful.
After this, Aaron notes that “Jeff spoke about someone he really cared about” but fails to register that when he looks in the mirror that his own eyes are hazel.
When Brook makes the friends to lovers transition in Holding On, the story lost its flow for me. This was mainly because Brook chooses to depict the sexual side of their relationship. True, Aaron and Jeff are two eighteen-year-old boys and exploring each other sexually is natural, but I found myself skipping these parts because I was uninterested in them. Even Jeff’s one romantic gesture on prom night is really so they can be together in a hotel room!
I would have liked to have seen Brook concentrate more on Aaron’s panic attacks. We know that he has them and why, but after he chooses to see a professional, the issue is only mentioned again in one paragraph in the penultimate chapter. I do think that this could have been an intentional move on the part of the author, though, as Holding On is already full of emotion and this could have perhaps taken the focus away from Jeff and Aaron as a couple.
The Aaron we see in the final chapter is much changed from the young man at the beginning of Holding On and I almost felt like standing up and applauding his speech. I think Brook’s intention is for this to be an HEA, but as these are two eighteen-year-olds moving on the next chapter of their life, I do feel that it is a HFN ending, although not a disappointing one.
Holding On was not the sweet, fluffy romance I wanted, but I did enjoy Brook’s writing, in particular, the way that she evokes emotion. For me, the story wasn’t perfect, but I would still recommend it to fans of the young/new adult genre.
Ahh - young love with all it's misunderstandings and angst make such a good read. However this book isn't just about young love, it's about dealing with the aftermath of violence in the home and the stress of graduation all whilst trying to hold down a job and keep a best friend. But if you think this means it's a sad and dark book you'd be wrong, it has touches of warmth and lots of love and a happy end which is exactly what one would wish for. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a friends to lovers story or a coming out story or even a coming of age story. It has all that and I know I'll end up rereading it one day as it's a story I won't mind revisiting.