By Jay Northcote
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Starting over isn’t easy, but Ben is ready to live his life as the man he was always meant to be.
Ben is transgender and back at university after hormone treatment and chest surgery. His new housemates have no idea about his history and Ben would prefer to keep it that way. He’s starting from scratch and his life is finally on track, except in the romance department. The idea of dating guys as a guy is exhilarating but terrifying, because if Ben wants a boyfriend he’ll have to disclose his secret.
Sid is drawn to Ben from the moment they meet. He normally gets what he wants—in the short term at least. Ben’s guarded at first, and Sid’s not used to guys rejecting his advances. He eventually charms his way through Ben’s defences and helps Ben on his journey of sexual awakening.
It doesn’t matter to Sid that Ben is trans. He’s attracted to the whole person, and isn’t worried about what is—or isn’t—in Ben’s pants. They’re good together, and both of them are falling hard and fast, but Ben’s insecurities keep getting in the way. If Sid can convince Ben he’s committed, will Ben finally be able to put his heart on the line?
Starting from Scratch is a non-traditional book and I was captivated by its characters, lessons, and insight from cover to cover. As per author Jay Northcote’s usual high standards with the Housemates series (actually anything he writes), he delivers an extremely well-written and pointedly engaging, compelling, and realistic portrayal of everyday life and the varied layers of human interaction shared among young adults and friends as they tread through exploring their sexuality, experiencing how to make relationship decisions, and learning how to navigate life in general.
This most recent installment in the Housemates series is so much more than any of the others, and trust me when I say I’ve loved each and every one. I knew before I even started reading the first chapter of Starting from Scratch that I would be a changed person because of it – it was informative, educational without being overdone, sensitive, eye-opening, maturely delivered, and enlightening, and I doubt I’m the only reader who is grateful to Northcote for writing it.
This was a challenging review for me to write because I didn’t know how to start or how to frame it, so instead I opted to share my personal observations:
- After being introduced to Sid in Jude’s and Shawn’s story, he turned out to be a lot different than I had anticipated. Sid’s maturity and sensitivity was hope-inspiring, and so pleasantly refreshing, and when he took the initiative to research all he could about the topics of being transgender and the process of transition, well, just wow. And sharing with Ben that he felt insecure about how Ben felt about him? Have I said, wow? I love him.
- Learning about internalized transphobia as shared through Ben’s perspective was eye-opening. Mustering the strength and courage he did on a daily basis, or even when confronted with a single situation or event, was inspiring.
- It’s so easy to connect to Ben and feel for him. His physical scars exist, but instead of being negative reminders, they become symbols of healing, of authenticity, and validation of who he is and who he is meant to be.
- The story is focused on truthful, legitimate emotions, fears, insecurities, and vulnerabilities in a forthright approach without resorting to angst, negativity, and unnecessary drama. The acceptance was refreshing – how it should be anyway, even though it’s often not – and really helped me understand so much more than I would have if the story had been framed differently.
- Starting from Scratch was a romantic and beautiful love story. From initial introduction to friendship to eventual relationship, Sid and Ben embraced communication, truth, openness, and honesty. Their sexual exploration was sensual, intoxicating, freeing. And their belief in one another was so uplifting. (Spoiler alert) One of my absolute favorite scenes in the entire book took place when Sid and Ben were helping to clean up the mess from Ben’s birthday party, and Sid expressed his pride in Ben for revealing his true identity to his friends.
Jay Northcote has truly published a very special story, and it is, hands down, a masterpiece.
I voluntarily read and enthusiastically reviewed an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book.
Review originally posted on Amazon and Goodreads on April 30, 2017.