Title: Fair Isn’t Life
Series: States of Love: Minnesota
Author: Kaje Harper
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Length: 148 Pages
At a Glance: Fair Isn’t Life is a sweetly awkward and enjoyable NA story.
Reviewed By: Jovan
Blurb: Luke Lafontaine survived the past year by not thinking about the father he lost, the dairy farm he couldn’t save from bankruptcy, or his way of life that vanished with the rap of an auctioneer’s hammer. Cleaning up city folks’ trash at the Minnesota State Fair is just another dead-end job. But at the Fair, surrounded by a celebration of farm life, ambitions he’d given up on and buried deep start to revive. And seeing Mason Bell in the parade—gorgeous, gay, out-of-his-league Mason—stirs other buried dreams.
Mason left his hometown for college in Minneapolis without looking back. Student life is fun, classes are great, gay guys are easy to find, but it’s all a bit superficial. He’s at the State Fair parade route with his band when he realizes a scruffy maintenance worker is Luke, his secret high school crush. Luke should be safely home working on his dad’s farm, not picking up litter. Mason wishes he hadn’t fallen out of touch. He’s an optimist, though, and it’s never too late for second chances. Now he just has to convince Luke.
Review: In the aptly titled Fair Isn’t Life, Luke lives his life one day at a time, doing any job he can to keep a roof over his head and not thinking about the future. However, being at the State Fair makes him realize that dairy farming is his passion and that maybe enough time has passed to dim the pain of losing his childhood farm, enough for him to work on someone else’s. Running into his high school crush, Mason, who is eager to catch up and hang out, is like a confusing, scary but exhilarating sign. As he and Mason spend time together while Luke applies for dairy farm jobs, Luke is given the opportunity to make peace with his past and to discover who he can be and learn to hope for a future.
With all the hardship in Luke’s life, Mason’s offer of friendship seems too good to be true but is a chance at a bit of happiness that is too hard for Luke to resist. Compared to Mason’s easy self-assurance and less complicated life, Luke often feels unsure and tense when he’s with Mason, but Mason takes it mostly in stride and does what he can to give Luke a haven to relax and unwind; unfortunately, the sexual awareness between the two of them often has the opposite effect. As Luke has no experience with men, he easily feels overwhelmed by their attraction, but Mason doesn’t try to push for more even though he wants to.
The book is very realistic in many ways, including Mason’s somewhat sheltered obliviousness when it comes to Luke’s situation and how he might be feeling. As someone from a middle-class upbringing whose family is supportive and accepts him as he is, as well as having the means to support him and send him to college, many “little things” fly under his radar when it comes to Luke, sometimes making Luke feel bad or self-conscious and leaving Mason with his foot in his mouth when he’s called on it, but utterly unaware when he’s not.
Mason is not shallow or selfish; he is simply self-centered in a way many college kids are. College is supposed to be an in-between entry into adulthood; being on your own and making most of your own decisions, but with the safety net of parental monetary support. Like many students in his situation, Mason is unaware of how privileged he is to have the family he does, which gives him the freedom to be young, explore his sexuality and have so many opportunities for his future, with people to catch him if he falls. Given that Luke’s existence and personality are the complete opposite to Mason’s—a self-reliant, taciturn, unconfident orphan who has been homeless and whose father knew he was gay but suppressed anything not “manly”, a man with no time to be young or learn who he is and struggling to make ends meet—the interactions between the two are often awkward and walk a fine line between portraying Mason as a bit shallow rather than clueless.
As a NA book about two twenty years-olds navigating their first real relationship, it is a good portrayal of the blundering, mixed signals and rough starts. However, while the book is well written, for me, it missed the mark. Maybe due to constraints on the story length, there are several elements that are introduced but not really dealt with; moreover, while Mason is a good foil for Luke to bring him out of his shell, that seems to be his only purpose and their attraction feels flat and convenient. While the MCs seem to like each other well enough, and had high school fantasies to fuel being together, it all seemed a bit superficial. By the end it felt like a “starter wife” situation—a nice first love story that helps Luke grow as a person and that he’ll remember fondly with his forever guy. Still, Fair Isn’t Life is a sweetly awkward and enjoyable NA story.
You can buy Fair Isn’t Life here:
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