Abroad, by Liz Jacobs
Series: Abroad, Book 1
Publisher: Brain Mill Press
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
Coming of Age
Abroad really spoke to me. I mean, it really spoke to me in a way that a book hasn’t done in a while. Perhaps because many parts of the story mirrored my own experiences at Nick’s age when I left home and moved overseas, not even realizing I was in search of something. But mostly this book spoke to me because it was just that beautifully written.
What must it be like to know yourself and to like what you know? To take up space the way they did and not feel strange or ragged around the edges? To know that you belonged somewhere, inside and out?
Abroad is a tender romance and a contemplative look at queer identity and the different ways it intersects and overlaps with the other aspects that make us who we are. Specifically, it’s the coming-of-age story of Nick, a shy, sheltered 20-year-old Jewish Russian-American immigrant who leaves close-knit family to embark on a study abroad program in London. Serendipitously, he is taken under the wings of cool and confident Izzy and soon finds himself a fixture in her and her flatmates’ lives. While the prospect of new friends and new experiences proves just enough to entice Nick out of his dorm room on occasion, it’s his growing fascination with broody, mercurial Dex that eventually forces him to look within himself and face his deepest truth.
He wasn’t Natali and her confidence in who she was. He wasn’t Dex and his grace, his easy pride and acceptance of all that he contained. Nick was the product of all things unspoken, all things fearful and untold.
A few of the things that impressed me about the book were the complexity of the characters and the strength of each character voice. The book managed to not only depict Nick and Dex’s stories in touching and precise detail, but it also painted a vivid portrait of the rest of their friends. The depth and scope of Izzy’s story however was quite unexpected and altogether too distracting for me, despite how much I adored her. It was an exciting detour at first but the longer it went on the more it took away from the slow and delicate build of Nick and Dex’s romance (which at that point was still in its formative stage). Looking back, I think it spoke volumes to the pull of Nick and Dex’s story that I couldn’t wait to get back to them.
Dex had been north, and Nick a compass needle. When Dex had moved or spoken, Nick had felt the pull of him. The hardest thing he’d ever had to do was fight the urge to watch him…. Secure and powerful, like a manifestation of steadiness. Dex was everything Nick wasn’t, and everything he longed for.
The ARC I received was positively riddled with all manner of errors (all of which should be cleaned up in time for release I’m sure) but I can say in all honesty that none of this even remotely took away from my enjoyment of the gorgeous writing. Whether it was discovering the sights and quirks of a new city through Nick’s eyes, witnessing Dex’s frustration at not being able to help his brother, or just hanging out with the gang down the pub, the author’s writing shone and the dialogue (be it American, Brit or Russian) felt authentic and nuanced. My only complaint is that the word “strop” appeared what felt like a million times in the book (or maybe just a dozen; it was one of those unfortunate things where it got overly repeated during an early scene so my brain noticed and recoiled every time it appeared thereafter).
Overall, Abroad was a slow and gorgeous read and I cannot recommend it enough. It ended on a lovely HFN for Nick and Dex, and a cruel, tantalizing tease of the rest of Izzy’s story. Which I now realize I desperately need right away. Help.
Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.
You can purchase Abroad from:
Brain Mill Press
Barnes & Noble
Or add it to Goodreads
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.