Defenseless - AJ Rose Reviewed for Sinfully.

4.5 stars

If you couldn’t tell by the blurb, this is a powerful and moving story. I’m pretty sure there’s not an emotion that AJ Rose missed in this book of love, loss and recovery, but the ride was definitely worth it.

What should have been one of the best years of their lives turns tragic in a matter of minutes. Together for seven months, Jesse and Kyle have never been happier. In the past weeks they have moved in together, Kyle has come out to his family as bi-sexual and thinks it went pretty well and they have just gotten engaged on the heels of the Obergefell decision. Capping things off at Pride with their friends was the perfect celebration until everything is brought to a shattering halt by the actions of four homophobic animals seemingly bent on murder. The brutal attack takes place on page and it wasn’t easy to read with the points of view of both men making it that more painful.

Jesse suffered the most physical damage in the assault, but without diminishing that aspect, the focus is on how both men and their relationship are fundamentally changed by the psychological impact of what happened. The following year tests their strength and commitment to each other and it also brings out unexpected reactions from family, friends and complete strangers. As Jesse and Kyle are trying to conquer their anger, fear and pain, new wounds are created even as a growing support network does what they can to support and care for them. Then finally, almost a year later, they have to relive everything all over again at a trial where they once again feel victimized in a search for justice and the ability to really move forward with the rest of their lives.

This is an incredible undertaking as AJ rose tackles the story from all angles: as individuals, as a couple and, especially in Kyle’s situation, as a family. Both men at points feel defenseless, overcome by anger and fear, unable to protect what they love, feeling weak for different reasons and experiencing vulnerabilities they never had before.

Their relationship understandably goes through a lot of changes. From learning to live with Jesse’s injury to navigating their shifting emotions, their life is a constant ebb and flow of missteps, good intentions going bad, competing emotions and secrets kept in the name of protecting the one you love, and it takes its toll on both men in different ways. At times I understood where both were coming from and at times I found myself angry with one or both, wavering right along with the characters. AJ Rose made them so human that there is likely something in this story that every single person reading will find relatable, whether it’s the family relationships, overcoming an unexpected trauma or just learning to communicate. It’s more a relationship drama than a romance.

In amongst all of the pain, there are bright spots. Jesse’s frat brothers and friends are a great support network, Kyle’s relationship with his brother grows from bickering sibling to staunch supporter and Liam, the stranger who stepped in to stop their attack becomes a new part of their life. Unfortunately, not all of the people that they expect to be there for them come through and there is a stark difference in the reactions of Kyle’s and Jesse’s parents.

AJ Rose’s writing had me right in the story the whole time. Some of what happens smacks you in the face with emotion and some of it sneaks up on you unexpectedly, but all of it felt utterly real. This is a long story and there were one or two spots where I felt the pace slowed and that I was being pointedly educated about some issues, but overall it moved along very well. It’s a powerful relationship drama and love story that’s not easy to read, both for the subject matter and the long road Kyle and Jesse have to travel to their happy ending. I felt the ups and downs right along with them, I felt scared, angry and frustrated, but ultimately happy to see them overcome against incredible odds.