J.H. Trumble isn’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects, as anyone familiar with her work will know, and this latest novel is no exception. We’ve all made mistakes, done or said things we wish we could go back and change. More often than not, we’re given the chance to learn from our mistakes and move on, but for one of the heroes in Just Between Us, it isn’t so simple. A few months of recklessness ends up jeopardizing everything he values—his college education, the boy he loves, even his life.

Seventeen-year-old Luke Chesser hasn’t had much luck where relationships are concerned. The last boy he lost his heart to? Well, it turned out he was crazy about someone else. To make matters worse, since Luke came out, his father has refused to accept his sexuality and, as a result, the atmosphere at home is strained. At school, Luke throws himself into practicing his moves for the marching band, which is how he meets the new field tech, Curtis Cameron. Suddenly Luke is falling in love all over again. This time, however, he is determined to get his happy ending.

But life isn’t a fairy tale, as Curtis discovers to his cost. At nineteen, he has everything going for him—a supportive family, the talent to pursue a career in music, and, if he’s reading the signs right, a cute boyfriend in Luke. Then Curtis tests positive for HIV, and his comfortable world crumbles around him. Terrified and ashamed, he can’t bring himself to tell anyone, least of all Luke. Before it has even begun, their budding romance is over. Curtis’s own future might be bleak, but there’s no way he’s dragging sweet, impulsive Luke down with him.

What the author has achieved with this book is quite remarkable. She has taken HIV, a disease that exists far beyond the realm of the average person’s experience, and turned it into something which is both horrifyingly real and rather too close for comfort. It’s easy to think it could never happen to us. If Curtis’s story has taught me anything though, it’s that no one is infallible, and a single careless act can alter the course of our lives forever.

Yet, for all its grim moments, this is very much a novel about hope. It’s about one young man’s courage as he struggles to piece his world back together, and the steadfast loyalty of the boy who helps him through. Most of all, it’s a novel about love. Not the idealistic, hearts-and-flowers kind of love, but a love that is messy and complex and achingly intense. Life may not be a fairy tale, and happiness is by no means guaranteed, but this only makes finding it all the more special.

Buy Just Between Us from Amazon

Written for Rainbow Book Reviews

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