Review: Abroad by Liz Jacobs

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“He trembled in place, but Dex had hold of him and Nick felt, for the first time, like he could fall apart and not hit the ground on impact.”
(This book is part of #TheReadingQuest – Category: A Book with a One Word Title)

Liz Jacobs’ spectacular debut is a story that will resonate with everyone and touch every reader’s heart. This raw, heartbreaking yet hopeful book features an exquisite coming-of-age storyline and a tender, realistic look at modern romance. One word: unputdownable.

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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?
A master of building tender and meaningful characters with heartbreaking stakes, Liz Jacobs deftly introduces audiences to the compelling, deeply personal narratives possible in coming-of-age and New Adult romance. ABROAD is an instant classic that approaches LGBTQIA+ and immigrant experiences from a powerful own-voices perspective.

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Where do I begin even trying to review this lovely book? 

Perhaps I should say that if you want a novel with characters that you will undoubtedly connect with, read this book. Or perhaps I should say if you want to cry buckets and have your heart broken then mended again, read this book. You know what: just read this book.

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.

This new adult novel is hyper realistic in regards to the accuracy of student life, romance and sexuality, friendship, race, and finding one’s place in the world. It’s a book about Nick, a Russian immigrant from America who leaves his tight-knit family to move to London as an exchange student. There, he is taken under the wing of bighearted Izzy, and finds himself part of a loving, effortlessly diverse group of friends. He meets moody Dex, one of Izzy’s best friends, a confident, openly-gay black man who Nick finds himself equally afraid of and drawn to. As Nick grows closer to Dex, he has to face a truth about himself, a truth that terrifies him to his very core.

So I am forming the Protect-Nick-Melnikov-Society-2k17 because he is one of the gentlest, sweetest main characters I have read in a long time, especially for a NA novel. He suffers from crippling anxiety and all of his interactions with people are imbued with fear, unease, and Nick trying to make himself as invisible as possible. Nick’s experiences with anxiety are so realistic, there were many moments I had to put the book aside because I could see myself in him. His character voice is raw, intense, unembellished – Abroad is not typically a heavy read, but many scenes were for me.

He wanted Nick to acknowledge it. To acknowledge him. To acknowledge this thing between them. He wanted Nick to strip that wall he’d built around himself and to show Dex that he maybe mattered in a different way from everybody else.

Dex is Nick’s opposite in every way: confident, out, extroverted … it’s easy to see how someone as deep in the closet like Nick is could fall for someone as strong as Dex. But appearances are deceiving, and Dex is struggling to help his family, specifically his little brother who is one of the only black boys at his new high school and is growing melancholy. His feelings for Nick were tender, and he was incredibly aware and sensitive of Nick’s anxiety, which I highly appreciated. Dex is depressed and lonely after his failed relationship and reading his renewed spark of life due to Nick’s presence was just beautiful.

Although the novel focuses on Nick and Dex’s budding romance, another character has a POV: Izzy. It was quite a surprise to be reading Izzy’s POV, but the more I did, the more I came to love her and her storyline. It was an exciting relief from the Dex and Nick’s heart aching storyline, since Izzy’s plot revolved around strong female friendships, partying and enjoying life, and discovering an important facet of herself. My only criticism of this book is not even about the book, it’s about the blurb and the fact that Izzy’s story came as a surprise. The blurb only mentions Dex and Nick and their romance, despite the fact that Izzy is a POV/main character. That’s not a dig at the author by the way, she can’t control what the blurb says; it was just a little disheartening to see a wlw storyline erased from the blurb, especially when m/m romances are so venerated by readers and f/f stories are often ignored. By not including Izzy in the blurb, it felt like that was the case here too (although not in the actual reading of the book). Does that make sense? TL;DR: Izzy should have been mentioned in the blurb – she’s a star, I want more of her.

She wasn’t going to let this crap get in her way. So she was bisexual. So what. It just opened up a whole world of possibilities for her. Girls! Who knew! Girls were wonderful. Girls were lovely. And Izzy was coming for them.

Jacobs’ writing is vividly powerful and engaging; I flew through the book, despite some of the scenes literally hurting my heart. Jacobs writes with authority and the precise detail of a #OwnVoices author. The three character voices, and subsequent secondary characters, were distinct and real – so real that I felt as though I knew these characters, that they were my friends. They were authentic, nuanced, complex people – real people. I would recommend this book based on the characters alone, they’re that amazing.

Do yourselves a favour and read this touching novel. It’s a powerful, captivating story that I could not put down. Give me the second book ASAP, Jacobs!

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5 stars

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide


Current #TheReadingQuest tally:

Overall EXP: 60
Overall HP: 139
Number of books completed: 3
Number of times # was used on SM: 4
Level: 2

4 thoughts on “Review: Abroad by Liz Jacobs

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