First and First by Santino Hassell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If there’s to be a political revolution in America, this is how it ought to start: with a change of heart in the 1%ers. With 1%ers like the heroes in Santino Hassell’s FIRST AND FIRST becoming self-aware, humble, and cognizant of their privilege.
FIRST AND FIRST is current and relevant in this time of darkness when phobia of all kinds thrive. I felt that I was reading not only an M/M romance but an authentic queer romance, wherein heteronormative and cis gender are not foreign words; pansexual, bi, ace, and nonbinary are not marginalized; and queer is the default.
From a craft perspective, it’s the most cohesive Five Burroughs novel and the best of the series so far; its sparse, effective imagery totally wowed me. It’s also the most erotic, with a hot as f*** “forced” scene that left no doubt it was consensual. But what was exceptional about the eroticism was how it expressed the characters’ unspoken complex emotions. How the sex was essential to the story, because it meant something to the characters, even though they didn’t understand the feelings that were developing between them.
It was a joy to see Caleb and Oli choose to unreservedly celebrate, embrace, and promote the diverse ethnicities, genders, lifestyles, and expressions of love in the queer community, and in doing so, choose self-love and each other. It’s the kind of love that ought to start a political revolution-a revolution that starts within. Caleb’s journey to self-love and sexual liberation was as wonderful as Oli’s surrender to the love of a lifetime. The ending was so beautiful, poignant, and full of heart and hope it made me cry.
I loved the title’s play on words, how the bar at First and First was a symbol of bridging and building family, and how Oli and Caleb were of course firsts to each other-Oli’s first love and Caleb’s elusive “little rakehell.” I loved their gentle, sweet kisses, adorable confusion, and heart-melting affection. The secondary and recurring characters were all so lovable as well.
Complexly romantic and simply gorgeous, FIRST AND FIRST had me at Caleb’s and Oli’s first bruising kiss tasting “like gin and tears.” It is a universal story about two lonely and abandoned men who want to love and be loved so much that it hurts.
*ARC received from Dreamspinner Press in exchange for an honest review.