Hi there! I’m so glad to join the blog tour for Heidi Cullinan’s newest release CARRY THE OCEAN. This is a contemporary M/M romance that absolutely smashes the common perceptions of depression and autism. I absolutely Fell. In. Love. with this book.
About the book:
Normal is just a setting on the dryer.
High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he’s autistic.
But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When his untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility nearby.
As Jeremey finds his feet at The Roosevelt, Emmet slowly begins to believe he can be loved for the man he is behind the autism. But before he can trust enough to fall head over heels, he must trust his own conviction that friendship is a healing force, and love can overcome any obstacle.
Warning: Contains characters obsessed with trains and counting, positive representations of autism and mental illness, a very dark moment, and Elwood Blues.
There are books that change people for the better. CARRY THE OCEAN is one of them. I know not everyone cares for gay fiction, but this book is phenomenal, and should be read by anyone who knows a person with depression, or autism. Or anyone who has heard of a person having depression or autism. Or anyone who has no idea what in the Sam Hill depression or autism are. You there, the guy with the hat! Yes, you! YOU should read this book!
Because this book is about humanity, and being a whole human even if your humanity is complicated by depression or autism.
Here’s why: for people who are on the outside of these diagnoses, you maybe can’t appreciate the person who struggles with them. That is not to say you can’t see and notice them, but getting the whole scope of their existence is difficult. Most people only SEE the diagnosis; the tics or flaps of autism, the withdrawn flat affect of a chronic depressive. Emmet and Jeremey are not caricatures of their diagnosis. They are flesh-and-bone young men who have dreams and aspirations of a life, a REAL adult life. And, love.
Emmet is a 19 y/o certified genius. He has a highly-functional level of autism that is both amazing (he can count cards and write computer programs) and daunting. He is easily overwhelmed by too many stimuli and has a whole menu of adaptations to keep him from acting out.
Add to all of these challenges, Emmet is also gay. He has never had a boyfriend, and was homeschooled most of his life. He moved to Jeremey’s neighborhood ten months before, so that he could attend Iowa State Univ. Emmet and Jeremey’s properties align in the back, split from each other by a railway line. Because Emmet is fascinated by trains, he spends a lot of time watching his backyard, and that’s how he spots Jeremey.
It took me ten months to meet Jeremey Sampson.
Emmet recognizes his limitations, and starting college and a friendship is too much. He does a little bit of online stalking to discover Jeremey’s identity all to one purpose:
I wanted to meet him and find out why he was sad. Maybe make him happy. But I couldn’t. The truth was, I had a crush on Jeremey Sampson. I didn’t want to just be his friend. I wanted to be his BOYfriend.
And this is a big problem because, despite being a genius, Emmet’s hampered by his diagnosis.
I also have autism spectrum disorder. It’s not even close to the most important thing about me, but as soon as people see me, watch me move, hear me speak, it’s the only thing that seems to matter. People treat me differently. They act as if I’m stupid or dangerous. They call me the R word or tell me I should be put in a home, and they mean an institution, not the house where I live.
When people find out I have autism, they don’t think I should be allowed to be in love, not with Jeremey, not with anyone.
Did anybody feel a truth bomb explode in that passage? *raises hand*
Emmet knows the “people on the mean,” the “normals” don’t consider him, an adult autistic person, as more than a half-person, not someone who might have great aspirations to live without being watched, to love a partner without backlash. It is increasingly complicated for Emmet to find a partner, because of his sexuality, but I can imagine this is difficult for any heterosexual autistic person, too. Still, his character is so incredibly brave. He makes all sorts of plans, rehearses his first words, trying to vary his inflections so that he sounds “normal” all for the moment that he gets the chance to speak to Jeremey.
It took me ten months to introduce myself to Jeremey Sampson. To learn and memorize the etiquette, to find the right words that would show ME to Jeremey, not my autism. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I did it.
But this is why I fell for Emmet: he doesn’t hate himself.
I shouldn’t have worried so much about it. Frankly, I’m awesome, and anybody who doesn’t agree should get out of my way.
I had to agree.
Jeremey, is a another animal entirely.
When you have an invisible disease, your sickness isn’t your biggest problem. What you end up battling more than anything else, every single day, is other people.
Jeremey unequivocally suffers severe depression. He is withdrawn and struggles even to get out of bed. He’s also prone to panic attacks and clinical anxiety–which mostly happens in public places. He is 18, newly graduated from high school, and his parents (misguidedly) shove him at colleges–a place Jeremey knows he’ll never survive.
Mom wanted a bright, smiling, charming son….I wasn’t the son my mom wanted.
His parents, in some sort of denial, will not allow Jeremey to take medication. Meeting Emmet is a shock to his system, in the best way.
If Emmet thought I was a tool, he didn’t show it. He waited patiently, rocking gently on his heels, staring at the place beside my head. His posture was so odd. His shoulders were too high, and his hands were all twisted in front of him. Sometimes he moved them, but only for a moment, and then he’d go rigid again.
He was cute. His hair was light brown and a little long, fanning around his face like he was in a boy band.
Emmet’s not sure if Jeremey’s gay, but he’s willing to at least be a friend to Jeremey. They strike up a tenuous communication via text and email which leads to visits. Jeremey’s mother is especially critical of Jeremey’s association with Emmet, but she recognizes that no other kids want to hang around her son and begrudgingly allows it. Well, until their friendship progresses to something…more.
I think Jeremey said it perfectly:
People saw us walking down the street to the grocery store or wantdering the aisles of Wheatsfield and acted as if we were escapees from the Island of Adorable, puppies dressed up in people clothes. Like we weren’t boyfriends, like we were fake.
No wonder I feel alienated. They’re the ones telling me I’m not like everyone else. It doesn’t matter how normal I am, somebody’s ready to tell me I’m different.
Nonetheless, Jeremey’s mom wasn’t happy to learn that her son was gay, and especially not happy to have him “dating” an “R” word…
Cue the meltdown that leads to the next meltdown, that leads to Jeremey in dire straights. Here’s the thing: Emmet is a superhero, to me and Jeremey. He makes a plan to get independent, so that he and Jeremey can live together. Emmet recognizes the toxic environment in which Jeremey exists and wants to help him escape it. Not one step of this road is easy, and yet there is no angst; there is only struggle and the drive to overcome.
Couple things…whole people have whole lives, and this includes a sex life. Emmet, due to his autism, is an extremely forthright person. He cannot operate in subtlety, yet struggles to make his needs plain in speech. Emmet wants a sexual relationship with Jeremey, and Jeremey reciprocates this desire. I’m not going to belabor this, but it is freaking beautifully, tenderly rendered. Sex happens, and it’s on the page, and it’s not lewd. It is as honest as every other experience in this book. It probably comprises 0.05% of the text. The rest is a fantastic story about two young men being THEIR normal, and finding love, and plotting their way in a confusing, overwhelming world.
I’m glad to have read this book. It changed me in ways that will undoubtedly resonate for decades. I hope it changed me so much that my kids learn to act better to special needs people because they will see me act better to them. (Not that I’m a demeaning person or ever treated an autistic or depressed person in a mean fashion.) I think WE, people on the mean, have unfair ideas in our “normal” brains that isolate autistic or depressed people because we see only how different that they are from us without even beginning to question how they are the same.
CARRY THE OCEAN is not a challenging read, it simply challenges the reader to see persons with these diagnoses as equal, not other. As human, not diseases. That doesn’t mean the book is a downer. On the contrary, the deft writing keeps the story from getting mired in misery. There are definite high points, and a constant sense that the book will have an HEA. The humor is light, and quiet, but present. (Think /facepalm v. LOL!) So many times I found myself smiling and cheering from this side of the screen. If I ever meet Emmet and Jeremey IRL I’m not gonna look at them like puppies in people clothes, I’m going to respect them and their struggle. They would have certainly earned it.
Interested? You can find CARRY THE OCEAN on Goodreads, Samhain (ebook & paperback), All Romance Ebooks, Amazon US (ebook, paperback), Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble (Nook & paperback), Google Play, iTunes, Kobo. I received an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.
Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!