Monday, October 12, 2015

Off Campus (Bend or Break #1) by Amy Jo Cousins

Off Campus (Bend or Break, #1)
* * * *

Everyone’s got secrets. Some are just harder to hide.

With his father’s ponzi scheme assets frozen, Tom Worthington believes finishing college is impossible unless he can pay his own way. After months sleeping in his car and gypsy-cabbing for cash, he’s ready to do just that.

But his new, older-student housing comes with an unapologetically gay roommate. Tom doesn’t ask why Reese Anders has been separated from the rest of the student population. He’s just happy to be sleeping in a bed.

Reese isn’t about to share his brutal story with his gruff new roommate. You’ve seen one homophobic jock, you’ve seen ’em all. He plans to drag every twink on campus into his bed until Tom moves out. But soon it becomes clear Tom isn’t budging.

Tom isn’t going to let some late-night sex noise scare him off, especially when it’s turning him on. But he doesn’t want any drama either. He’ll keep his hands, if not his eyes, to himself. Boundaries have a way of blurring when you start sharing truths, though. And if Tom and Reese cross too many lines, they may need to find out just how far they can bend…before they break.

Warning: This book contains cranky roommates who vacillate between lashing out and licking, some male/male voyeurism, emotional baggage that neither guy wants to unpack, and the definitive proof that sound carries in college housing.


After more than a summer of sleeping in his car and driving a cab to make cash and save money for school, Tom Worthington is excited to finally have an actual bed to sleep in.  But when he arrives at the off-campus housing he’s been assigned to, he finds his bed has been converted into a couch.  Apparently his new roommate wasn’t expecting company for the school year. 

After a vicious on-campus assault the year before, Reese Anders was promised a private room in the off-campus housing usually reserved for adults.  Needless to say he was unhappy and extremely displeased to find an oversized jock standing in his doorway and expecting to sleep in his room.   

No amount of complaining will help the situation.   There is not enough available housing for Reese to have a single and Tom has nowhere else to go.  So they’ll have to figure out how to live together until the next school year.  Tom is cool with that.  He just wants to keep his head down and get through the next three semesters.  But Reese?  He is determined to have his own space.  His safety and peace of mind depend on it.  So what should scare off an assumedly homophobic jock more than anything?  Purposely bringing guys back to their room for a good time, of course.  But what Reese doesn’t understand is that Tom is not only not homophobic, he’s not all that straight either.   Tom knows what Reese is doing but he’s too desperate for a room and a bed to be scared off.  Plus, listening in is kind of hot.  Not that the very reserved Tom is going to admit that to anyone but himself. 

This book is told through Tom’s POV (third person).  Because of this, the reader becomes intimately aware of the kind of person Tom used to be and the young man he’s become thanks to the criminal actions of his father.  A once overly privileged and careless young man has become so careful and overly focused that his paranoia uncomfortably leaps off the page.  But that same watchfulness allows him to be super aware that his roommate is negatively reacting to their room situation because he’s afraid of Tom.  Mostly Tom’s size in comparison to Reese’s smaller stature.  And because Tom has become so much more conscious of others, he does everything he can to alleviate that fear.  Even to the extent of making himself physically smaller when he’s in the same room as Reese.  Reese is just as watchful as Tom in some ways.  And as he becomes more comfortable with Tom he also sees more of things that Tom doesn’t want anyone to see.  At one point Tom finds out that Reese had been purposely leaving apples on his desk because he saw that Tom was financially struggling and couldn’t always afford or fit in a healthy snack or meal.  It was a very short but sweet moment that said a lot about both of these characters.  As Tom and Reese get to know each other and eventually begin a relationship, it’s amazing and beautiful to see the lengths they will go to make the other feel safe.

Sweet moments aside, there has to be a conflict in every romance.  No relationship can survive the PTSD that both of these men are experiencing without some professional help.  The problem is that they are both resistant to that help. Tom especially since he is convinced reaching out will make him vulnerable to the press that hounded him after his father was arrested.  Tom’s acceptance of his issues and his fear of seeking help is more than a little frustrating.  Especially since Reese shows more willingness to face his fears and try.  The conflict in this story is honest and messy and sometimes unflattering.  Tom’s and Reese’s issues are the kind that they will be working on for a lifetime.  But, in the end, their willingness to do so is what makes their story so beautiful and so relatable. 

I’ve read this entire series (more reviews to come!) and I have found that Amy Jo Cousins has an amazing knack for writing characters with frightening realistic personality traits that will drive you nuts.  And yet you fall in love with those characters because they are so ridiculously human it’s impossible not to.  Off Campus is a great contemporary New Adult romance featuring two young men that are determined to make a relationship work in spite of and because of their individual traumatic experiences. 


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