Author: Jim Provenzano
Pages/Word Count: 264 Pages/374 Pages
Rating: 4 Stars Overall
Blurbs: 2012 Lambda Literary Award Winner for Best Gay Romance
After an abrupt encounter in a small woods of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, Reid Conniff, a shy and studious high school distance runner, becomes swept up in the adventurous world of Everett Forrester, a privileged and capricious charmer. Overcoming the distance of their separate schools, parental interference, and a nearly fatal accident, the two young men find a way to be together in spite of their own doubts and fears.
Set in 1979-1980, Every Time I Think of You recalls a halcyon era in America’s past with a personal voice.
Message of Love: In Jim Provenzano’s sequel to the 2012 Lambda Literary Award-winner Every Time I Think of You, the love between two young men is put to a test. Reid Conniff and Everett Forrester have moved to Philadelphia, where college life brings them closer together. But Everett, a recovering paraplegic, is pressured by his mother to transfer to the University of Pennsylvania, while Reid stays at Temple University. Their once long-distance love becomes a cross-town romance. A twist of floral fate finds them an apartment more like a home. Between disability protests, impulsive road trips and despite a few affairs, their relationship grows. But as the early 1980s continue, a spreading crisis approaches, coming into their lives with a strange intimacy, via that one mysterious Polaroid of Everett, the one that Reid never dared to ask about.
Review: Author Jim Provenzano captures the voice, the emotions, and every pang of urgency that goes along with falling in love for the first time in Every Time I Think of You, the story of Reid Conniff and Everett Forrester, two seventeen year old boys who embark upon a journey of desire and an unexpected test of their love in the late 1970s.
Told in the first person, Reid is the narrator of his story as he guides the reader through his first meeting with Everett deep within a wintery Pennsylvania forest, then on to the end of high school to what now will become a new beginning for both young men. A tragic accident leaves Everett changed, battling the depression and anger that comes along with attempting to accept his new life, which leaves Reid fighting a one sided battle for the love that has steadily built between them. The intimacy the author injects into this novel, choosing to limit the point of view, allows us to see Everett only through Reid’s eyes, giving the reader the sense that there are things about him, Everett, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, as his and Reid’s relationship continues to mature and evolve.
There are a handful of secondary characters who move Reid and Everett’s story forward, Reid’s parents along with Everett’s father and sister being integral in their unconditional acceptance of the boys’ relationship. Everett’s own family life is a contrast to Reid’s, which serves as a reminder again of how the two are opposites who attract.
Nature herself also plays alongside this story’s human counterparts. The author weaves Reid’s love of the outdoors and, of course, the forest, the place where the boys engaged in their first of several sexual encounters, into the plot. This gives the novel a sort of fairy tale quality and serves as allegory to the transcendence and evolution of their lives and love through change and renewal. There’s a sweetness to the sense memory of Reid thinking of Everett, his own “forester”, amongst the flowers and trees, which I felt lent a certain pastoral feeling to the poignancy of Every Time I Think of You.
As Reid and Everett’s story continues in Message of Love, the author maps out the couple’s journey to adulthood along with some of the challenges those years encompass, challenges that are underscored by Everett’s disability. The day-to-day domesticity in this literary piece made for a slow and at times prosaic 374 pages, peppered only occasionally with light conflict that was easily resolved but supported the idyllic nature of the story’s theme. Where Every Time I Think of You moved along briskly through the boys’ trials and tragedies, Message of Love requires the reader to persevere through a somewhat cumbersome narration of details that don’t always serve to evolve the plot or the characters. While that doesn’t mean Message of Love is at all poorly written, it does serve as a contrast to the strength of Every Time I Think of You. There was a lovely foundation laid for these characters, but, in the end, I didn’t feel the continuation of Reid and Everett’s story built solidly on what was there.
Lending itself to the idyll of both books is the near lack of homophobia faced by these men. Living as openly as they did, I felt perhaps that particular omission of reality, while playing into the pure nature of Reid and Everett’s love, might ask readers to suspend a healthy dose of disbelief. The early 80s setting did, however, offer the opportunity to touch upon the outbreak of what was then known only as the “gay cancer” that would soon cut a wide swath through the homosexual community. AIDS touches Reid and Everett’s lives in a peripheral way, which added a poignant and, being that we’re now seeing its effects in hindsight, a somber tone to this particular element in the story.
These novels are not rife with action or showy drama but are a simple love story complicated by the sometimes harsh whims of chance. What might have been nothing more than a bit of teenage rebellion on Everett’s part in drawing Reid into his life at the outset of their meeting becomes more before their story ends, which isn’t a true ending but a prelude to the rest of their lives. There’s a reason Every Time I Think of You is a Lamda Literary Award winner. It’s a lovely coming of age novel that I recommend without reservation, and although I can’t give the same unequivocal recommendation to Message of Love, I will say if you enjoy a character driven plot about the triumph of love, that’s what you’ll find between the covers if the book.
You can buy Every Time I Think of You & Message of Love here: