Review: Trust Trade (Gem City Grit #1) by Ki Brightly

Life hasn’t been good to Jeb Birchman. When he attempted to escape his abusive, zealot father, he found himself on the streets, making a living the only way he knew how, the victim of more violent men—one of whom orchestrates a series of vicious attacks that leave Jeb deaf. Now that he’s aged beyond his latest client’s interest, Jeb knows he needs to escape his risky lifestyle before it’s too late. Seeing one last chance for himself, he earns a GED and enrolls in college.

Freddy Williams enjoys a life that couldn’t be more different from what Jeb has survived. He loves sports, being a personal trainer, and hanging out with friends. The son of deaf parents, Freddy is an outspoken advocate of the Deaf community and works as an interpreter at his college. When he meets Jeb at the bookstore, he’s struck by how attractive he is, and as they get to know each other, he finds Jeb’s good heart just as appealing. By the time he learns of Jeb’s past, it’s only a few steps behind them, and Freddy must make a choice between school and his familiar routine and protecting the man he’s falling in love with.

The violence in the beginning of this story is pretty distressing, and I just want to put a warning out there that this could be a trigger for abuse survivors. Especially those who have survived but live with a disability as a result of violence against them. Be in a good place before you pick this up, and have someone on call. It is a short scene, but it doesn’t hold anything back, so tread with care.

Jeb has had a pretty rough ride in life, but he’s doing okay, and he’s getting by, wanting to do something with his life, other than sell himself, so he’s off to college. Freddie is a student at the same college, and is also an interpreter of ASL as a result of having two deaf parents.
They meet in the on campus bookstore and Freddie is infatuated, while Jeb is wary but hopeful that he has made a friend.

There were a fair few issues with this story, surrounding Freddie’s privilege and judgment of Jeb’s past. I got quite icked out by his arrogance and selfishness in a situation where Jeb was being completely open with him about it. Freddie made the entire thing about himself, and it was just gross. I’m trying to put it down to the characters being late teen/early twenties but to be honest, I like my fiction to rise above how crappy and self absorbed people can be in real life. I just didn’t feel that Freddie was paying attention to Jeb, or considering life from his point of view enough to move beyond himself. Some of the scenes were a bit ablist to me. Freddie seemed to be trying to save the day, rather than support Jeb in his own advocacy. Again, I’m putting this down to the character age, but again, I wanted this to transcend the crappy reality most people with a disability live with and it just didn’t.

Jeb on the other hand really did start to stand up for himself, and I enjoyed that much more. While crap was happening around him, he handled it with as much grace as he possibly could, holding his shit together and forging plans for himself as the situations arose.

Jeb won me over with his practical look at how life could be if he put the effort in. He wanted more, and I wanted him to get it. I honestly could have enjoyed a story just about Jeb, with no Freddie in it to muddy the waters.

While I took issue with Freddie, I still enjoyed this story, and how it developed. I’m fully in Jeb’s corner and ensuring that his life turns out great. I was invested in his story, invested in his emotional well being, and even invested in his relationship with Freddie, because it’s what Jeb wanted. There were some surprises I wasn’t really expecting, and maybe were not so realistic, but I thought it took the story in a good direction overall, and again, Jeb was looking to be practical and functional to ensure everything worked out okay.

I’m not sure I could read another Jeb and Freddie follow up without there being some major adjustments in Freddie’s worldview, but if it were an older and wiser version of Freddie, whom didn’t want to overshadow Jeb and hold him back, I think I could enjoy it.

I’m glad the author tried this. Writing stories with main characters with disabilities is tough. There are a lot of expectations, and subtle nuances to fighting ableism, and so for the effort, I thank the author. I think with a bit more critical thought and some deeper research this story may have turned out better for me.

A review copy was provided for an honest opinion

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