Review: Take The Long Way Home by J.A. Rock

Dresden Marich has failed out of high school three months shy of graduation. He’s infatuated with his online friend, Evan, alienated from his family and former classmates, and still trying to recover from his father’s death six years ago. He’s also keeping a troubling secret about his older brother, Gunner, who is away at boot camp.

Then Dresden meets Caleb, a judgmental environmentalist who’s hardly Dresden’s fantasy come true. But Caleb seems to understand Dresden’s desire for rough sex, big feelings, and, ultimately, safety. As Dresden becomes embroiled in a farmers market drama involving Caleb, a couple of bullying tomato enthusiasts, and a gang of vigilante vegans, he discovers he might be willing to trade a fantasy relationship with Evan for a shot at something real with Caleb.

But Dresden fears telling quick-to-judge Caleb his secret, and the news that Gunner is coming home sends him fleeing to California for a chance to meet Evan in person and hopefully fall in love. When the encounter doesn’t go as expected, Dresden faces a choice: stay in California and carve out a new life, or take the long road home to his family, Caleb, and a past he must face if he has any hope for a future.

Two things you should know from the outset:
  • This is not my kind of book. Generally speaking, I'm not a feelz book reader. This is a feelz book. It’s also the quintessential slice of life book whereas I tend to gravitate to books with more of an action bent.
  • I got hoodwinked by J.A. Rock. J.A. dropped by the blog to promote this book not too long ago. I read the excerpt and I thought it was going to be a fun rom-com wherein some vegans get butthurt and possibly fall in love. HOODWINKED! Fun is not the first word that comes to mind when describing Take The Long Way Home, though it does have its moments.
However, Dresden despite himself and against all odds won me over. I wanted to choke him, hug him, strangle him and tuck him in at night whispering to him how everything would be ok, to not be so hard on himself. Take The Long Way Home is told in first person present tense and Dresden is the embodiment of present-wholly, completely and utterly present. He’s stunningly intelligent, heartbreakingly observant and he bears his imperfect soul to us for a few short chapters. He’s lost, lonely, fucked up in a lot of ways but he cares, probably too much for his own good. He might not know how to show it or say it, but he tries and at the end of the day that’s all any of us can do. 

I stop panting for a moment so I can listen to him. He stops too, and then he crushes me to him, and I feel so fucking okay it's ridiculous. I turn and put my head against his chest, which is not something I would normally do to a stranger, but his body suddenly seems like the only fucking thing I trust in the world.

Dresden and Caleb’s relationship is quiet and organic but theirs is not a traditional love story. There are no big declarations of love or everlasting devotion. It's not fluffy or sweet. They're both damaged. Their relationship has an honesty that I found profound in its simplicity; it’s beauty in its simplest form. They are two flawed people who are trying to figure out if all their imperfections add up to something extraordinary or something commonplace. I feel like Caleb is the lone weakness in this altogether brilliant story. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to him and his own darkness than what we were given and I wish Dresden would’ve explored it more. For that I’m deducting a half star.

My barometer on familial dysfunction is skewed to hell and back, so I’ll lay out Dresden’s backstory. He was abused and terrorized by his older brother. His father died suddenly when he was a pre-teen leaving a mother ill-equipped to parent three children and who failed them all more often than not. His sister cuts the heads off her dolls and likes to pretend they’re Mafiosi who snuff each other out in her dollhouse. Whatever that equates to, is what it is. Dresden’s road isn’t the toughest nor is it the most scenic but he’s trying to make sense of this road we call life in healthy and unhealthy ways and in making sense of it maybe he can figure out how he can make his own little home a tiny bit better.

I never, in all my dumbfuck life, would have thought some guy with watermelons and rescued wood could end the noise in my head.

J.A. has accomplished a level of authenticity here that should be lauded. Take The Long Way Home is a spectacular achievement, one which is a departure from previous works I’ve read of hers and one that demonstrably exemplifies a new level of maturity in her writing, in my opinion.

Highly recommend to fans of slice of life stories with complicated characters and feelz. Tons of feelz.

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

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