Recommended Read, Review

Review: Learned Reactions by Jayce Ellis (2021)

Higher Education, Book 2

Heat Factor: 🍆🍆🍆🍆

Character Chemistry: These guys care about each other deeply

Plot: Deion and Carlton are best friends, so when Carlton needs a pretend boyfriend to smooth the process of his niece’s adoption, Deion doesn’t hesitate to agree. 

Overall: I was extremely emotionally invested in this book

I’m going to be upfront here: the way Carlton treats Deion is horrible. It’s extremely manipulative and is all about making Carlton’s life easier. But I never hated Carlton, because his behavior is also entirely understandable. Instead, I was completely sucked in to the simultaneously really beautiful and kind and harmful and toxic dynamic that these two have. 

Here’s the situation. Carlton and Deion have been best friends for twenty years. Deion has been in love with Carlton for those entire twenty years. And when I say they’re best friends, I mean, they have a close and intense friendship that involves regular phone calls and visits and deep emotional connection; neither man has other close friends. It’s like they’ve been emotionally monogamous for their entire adult lives. Now Deion is at a turning point in his career and during a visit to Carlton he puts his feelings out in the open. 

Keep this in mind as I continue to summarize the plot: early in the book, Deion tells Carlton that he’s been in love with him for years, and Carlton acknowledges that he’s always kind of known. 

However, before these guys can actually have a conversation about this revelation, Carlton’s niece shows up at his door, asking to stay with him. Carlton asks Deion to extend his trip, you know, until Olivia is settled. Of course Deion says yes, because he always says yes, and, of course, things spiral further and further out of control, until they’re fake dating and real sleeping together and co-parenting Olivia and… 

See? Carlton asking for this help does make his life easier and is terrible because of Deion’s feelings – but also, Deion could, I don’t know, say no sometimes. 

Like I said, I got really emotionally invested in this book, so it’s hard for me to step away from just analyzing the nitty-gritty details of Carlton and Deion’s complex and messy relationship as it progressed. I would say this is a sign of a strong book. 

Other strengths include:

  • Strong narrative voice. The prose was fresh and the story clipped along. The characters were distinct and memorable. 
  • Even if I thought there should have been more grovel than there was, the climatic moment was beautifully done. I might have teared up. 
  • Ellis writes with care and confidence about family law. This makes sense, as, according to her author bio, she practices family law. 

I did have a huge hang-up, that probably very few other readers will care about, to wit: the portrayal of academia. Deion is a tenure track philosophy professor. He is able to drop everything and stay with Carlton and essentially be a house-husband because he’s on sabbatical. SIR. THAT IS NOT HOW SABBATICAL WORKS. Even if he has decided he’s not going to pursue tenure at his current institution because of toxic nonsense, he would be trying to be a visiting professor somewhere else and writing his book and presenting at approximately three conferences a week, because if he wants to stay in academia (and it seems like he does because he loves teaching) he does NOT want to fall down the totem pole into adjuncting (aka “work your ass off for years to become an expert in your field and we’ll pay you minimum wage and give you no job security or benefits!”). I am salty about this, obviously. But not just because it’s wrong, but because this wrongness perpetuates the idea that professors have these cushy jobs, which in turn is used to justify things like increasingly relying on adjunct labor (he doesn’t work, why should we pay for the time when he’s not in the classroom?) or rampant anti-intellectualism (he doesn’t work, how can he be an expert?) or even eliminating philosophy departments (he doesn’t work, this space is unproductive and does not contribute to our bottom line). 

This is probably just a me thing though. As long as you’re not feeling feisty about the state of academia, and you love you some messy messy characters, I recommend this book. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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