A CARE­FUL HEART

Foreword Reviews - - Spotlight - MON­ICA CARTER

Ralph Josiah Bard­s­ley, Bold Strokes Books, Soft­cover $19.95 (312pp), 978-1-62639-887-0 Vi­o­lence in re­la­tion­ships can af­fect any­one, as com­pellingly proves.

A Care­ful Heart is a ro­mance novel by way of do­mes­tic abuse. Sound im­prob­a­ble? Per­haps, but Ralph Josiah Bard­s­ley takes on that of­ten-ne­glected sub­ject within the genre well.

The book fol­lows two best friends from child­hood to early adult­hood. One finds ro­mance, and the other thinks he has but re­al­izes that the “per­fect guy” comes with a dev­as­tat­ing price.

The novel opens in 2001, when Travis and Stephen are en­ter­ing high school in their small New Hamp­shire town. Travis, the ex­tro­vert, and Stephen, the in­tro­vert, com­ple­ment each other in ev­ery way as they suf­fer the ups and downs of high-school life. Their re­la­tion­ship is tested when Stephen dis­cov­ers Travis’s sex­u­al­ity, but it ends up bring­ing them closer to­gether. Bard­s­ley crafts the fam­ily dy­nam­ics of both char­ac­ters well, giv­ing enough in­for­ma­tion to en­rich the story with­out lin­ger­ing too long on sec­ondary char­ac­ters.

Once Travis and Stephen head off to dif­fer­ent col­leges, they dis­cover their own iden­ti­ties with­out the other. Strong scenes and au­then­tic di­a­logue show par­tic­u­lar fi­nesse, as when Travis and Stephen see each other be­tween semesters. The pace is well con­trolled, high­light­ing im­por­tant mo­ments and us­ing ex­po­si­tion to sum­ma­rize back­story. Once Travis and Stephen are set­tled in Bos­ton as room­mates, have their own jobs, and start dat­ing, things get com­pli­cated. Stephen falls in love with a man, Gabe, and Travis be­gins dat­ing an older man from the of­fice, Benson.

The dif­fer­ences be­tween each re­la­tion­ship are jar­ring—stephen and Gabe have a sup­port­ive, sweet courtship, while Travis makes ex­cuses for the bruises he comes home with af­ter be­ing with Benson. There are times when char­ac­ters seem to be mouth­pieces for is­sues, but the novel re­mains re­fresh­ing in its abil­ity to show most char­ac­ters as ac­cept­ing and sup­port­ive of each other.

Vi­o­lence in re­la­tion­ships can af­fect any­one, as A Care­ful Heart com­pellingly proves.

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