Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary YA M/M romance form Zane Riley. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU is the sequel to GO YOUR OWN WAY, and these books should probably be read in order for best enjoyment.
Be sure to drop down and check out the excerpt, author interview and get in on the $25 GC or book giveaway!
About the book:
In the much-anticipated sequel to Go Your Own Way, high school seniors Lennox McAvoy and Will Osborne pick up right where they left off—navigating the tumultuous waters of a new relationship and dealing with Will’s disapproving father.
When a violent incident forces Lennox to give up his independent ways, he must come to terms with his past just as Will is grappling with his future. As Will’s college plans become reality, will Lennox have the courage to go after the opportunities he doesn’t think he deserves?
How about a little taste?
The band room was empty when he pushed the door open, but the piano was set up like it was almost every afternoon these days. Only Mr. Robinette and a music stand littered with sheet music was absent.
The silence struck Lennox as odd, but as he sat down he also realized how strange it was to announce himself. So much had changed since the first time he’d snuck in here to play on his own. Now he was auditioning for some college he still couldn’t fathom.
To make Will happy. And maybe a little bit for himself.
“Ah, I wondered if you were going to show up.”
Mr. Robinette was behind him, the door to his office now wide open. He’d taken off his tie and undone a few buttons on his shirt like he did most afternoons when they practiced.
“You just want to play it through a few times or mess around with something else?”
Lennox took a seat at the piano, but didn’t both opening his bag. He’d memorized the piece he was playing by Valentine’s Day and now, almost two weeks later, he could write it out measure for measure on blank sheet music. But playing it was becoming repetitive. For two hours, three times a week, almost nonstop with the same four pages and nothing else.
“I’d rather try something new. That piece is getting a little old.”
Mr. Robinette smiled and pulled a chair up beside him. “I had a nightmare the other night and it was the theme song while I ran around a haunted house Scooby Doo style.”
“You didn’t catch a ride in the Mystery Machine, did you? I’ve always wanted that van.”
“I’ve got a lunch box version of it. It doesn’t fit much though because it’s too narrow. Anyway, play what you want. I’ll be here until about four-thirty, so it’s all yours.”
As Mr. Robinette returned to his office, Lennox pulled what had become his music notebook out of his bag and opened it to the latest page. He’d taken to composing during class when he should have been taking notes, especially calculus where he had no reason to pay attention anyway.
The latest page was a tune he’d come up with while the other kids had been tapping their pencils and erasing answers. Every moment of his life carried a rhythm, a melody, and an emotion he could create with, and his notebook was becoming a testament to that. He played through everything he’d jotted down over the past few days, but after several rounds he kept coming back to one. It was a piano version he’d tried—and mostly failed—to create of one of the songs Will had played on a loop a few weeks ago.
“I’m getting ready to lock up!”
Mr. Robinette’s voice carried out of the office and into the band room. A few minutes and several jingles of Mr. Robinette’s keys later, the office door was shut and Lennox was closing the cover on the keys.
“That last piece you were playing, was it a cover?”
Lennox shrugged as they headed for the door.
“It was supposed to be. Didn’t sound much like the song.”
“Well, the others did. They were all really good, even the ones that weren’t covers.”
Lennox watched him at the door to the parking lot for a moment. He’d been a great help over the last month—all year if Lennox was honest. Mr. Robinette had believed in him in his own way since school had begun, and thanks to him he had a decent shot at this audition.
“Thanks for… all of this. I actually feel like—just thanks.”
Mr. Robinette gave him a genuine smile and patted him on the shoulder.
“You’re very welcome. Let me know how it goes when you get back, okay? I’m rooting for you. Got all of my fingers and limbs crossed. You deserve the chance. Don’t doubt that or yourself.”
It was funny to have so many people believing in him after so long. Happiness was a strange feeling as well. Until he’d let Will into his life he couldn’t remember how to capture such a feeling in his chest and keep it there.
Thoughts from Author Zane Riley!
Hi! I’m Zane, and I’m a queer transgender writer from northern Virginia. Currently, I’m in the process of packing up to move to Washington state, so I’m pretty busy at the moment, but also very excited. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, although I didn’t get truly serious about it until college when I switched my major to Creative Writing.
With or Without You is my second novel and a sequel to my first. It continues Will and Lennox’s story as they finish up their senior year of high school. As they begin to learn how to navigate their growing relationship, Will plans for his future in college while Lennox struggles to accept that his future is more than surviving until the next day. They each begin to forge their own paths only to realize that the futures they each want may lead them away from each other.
Tell us something no one else knows about your characters.
Will has never broken a bone. He sprained his ankle once in Little League, but that’s the worst injury he’s ever had. Considering how clumsy he is, it’s a miracle he hasn’t broken as many bones as Lennox.
Lennox, on the other hand, has broken close to a dozen bones. Most of those were fingers from when he was little and kept putting him fingers in places he shouldn’t. Like the line where the car door meets the body of the car. The others were broken ribs from his teenage years.
Have you ever had writer’s block? How did you overcome it?
I’ve had a few spats with writer’s block over the years. I know a lot of people keeping trying to force themselves to write through it and end up getting even more frustrated than before. Usually, once I recognize I have a block, I shut my documents, notebooks, etc. I don’t even consider writing. I go out and see friends or go outside for a walk when I’d normally be writing. Finding other activities, even a mindless video game, helps me decompress whatever’s blocking me. After a few days, I’ve usually found the root of the problem and can start writing again.
What book you’ve written would you like to see made into a movie?
With or Without You is only my second book, and it’s a sequel to the first, so my options are a bit limited, but I’d pick the second one. It has a stronger plot and a much more defined ending than my first novel. The movie would definitely have to be NC-17 though, ha ha. Can’t lose all the sexual moments in Will and Lennox’s story otherwise the whole narrative would change.
Do you work on an outline or plot or just let the story takes you where it wants to go?
I let the story take me wherever the characters want to go, especially with Will and Lennox. It’s a necessity with a character like Lennox. I’ve written other stories where I do a little bit to outline a basic structure, but a lot of the time, I spend enough time letting the story evolve in my head and then just write. In some ways, I guess I memorize the important pieces of what’s going to happen. It feels more natural for me to write from my own head than from a list on a sheet of paper.
This is a book about two out gay teens in a small Virginia town. It’s the sequel to GO YOUR OWN WAY and I think I might have liked it better had I read the first book. It contains graphic scenes of homophobic violence as well as sex between two consenting 18 year old boys.
Lennox is a black, gay high school senior who has been quite literally abandoned by his family in rural Leon, Virginia. Lennox is a musical wunderkind, trained in music performance and composition by his musician mother, who took her own life when he was young. His father never recovered from that loss and drank himself to death, leaving Lennox and his younger, disabled sister, Lucy, in the care of their grandparents. When Lennox came out, his grandfather was very angry. Lennox was attacked by homophobes in his school, and he struck back hard; he was arrested and incarcerated in a juvenile facility where he was molested by older boys. He’s now on a monitored release program, with a leg monitor. His grandfather wants nothing to do with Lennox and arranged to leave him to serve out the rest of his time in Leon. Lennox lives in a ramshackle hotel that is more dangerous for having several other residents who are violent homophobes. Lennox has little regard for himself and is a brash kid, generally lashing out verbally at anyone who might attempt to get close.
Will is a well-liked out gay white boy who is a good student and star athlete. He’s never had a boyfriend, but Lennox has come to town and they are negotiating a relationship together.
***All of this occurred in the previous book.***
When this book opens it’s Thanksgiving, Will and Lennox are a sexually active couple and Will wants Lennox to leave his crappy motel to live in his house with his father and step-mother, Ben and Karen. They are cool with Will being gay, but Ben has problems with his son dating a black thug criminal, which is how he sees Lennox. Karen is a nurse, and Ben is rehabilitating from a heart attack. Despite Will’s desire to have Lennox move in, Lennox won’t–he can’t bear Ben’s scrutiny. That said, the homophobes attack, and Lennox has no choice but to accept Will’s help and Karen’s care.
Will is a bright kid with a bright future, and he wants to share that vision with Lennox. Despite Lennox’s penchant for self-loathing and self-sabotage, Will sees the best within him and encourages him gently, but steadily, to apply to music school. In Boston. It’s really far from Virginia, but won’t be too far from NYU, where Will is applying for college. Lennox is terrified to fall for Will and be abandoned again, but realistic about his inability to pay for any school, let alone music school. His grandfather’s paltry allowance barely kept him fed; it surely won’t cover tuition.
I think this book has some great moments of hubris and deep love. Ben recognizes his callous treatment of Lennox hurts his relationship with both Will and Karen. He tries to see the good in the foul-mouthed boy who makes no bones about all the sex he’s having with his son…which was something I found grating, as a reader. I surely wouldn’t want any partner of my children being so crass, and I get that it was a defense mechanism for Lennox–who learned to wear his sexuality as a protective suit–but it was too much for me. The constant baiting wore me out, especially as Lennox was quite literally co-habitating with Will in the basement. I found a lot of respect for Ben in growing past that to discover the tender side of Lennox. Lennox could learn a lot from the phrase: Gratitude is an Attitude…
There is no question that Will is gone for Lennox, and Lennox is slowly but surely able to reciprocate this affection. He has many challenges to overcome, and emotional intimacy is one of them. Another is a general absence of faith. He’s been abused so often, and abandoned by everyone who should have cared for him that he feels worthless, and unworthy of love. He’s blown away when Ben stands up for him against his grandfather’s venom. He’s mystified when kids want to be his friend. He’s flummoxed that a music school might accept him. All of this comes out as sarcasm, frustration and anger, because Lennox is prickly-by-nurture. I liked how Will’s constant affection and determination to ‘be there’ gave Lennox the strength to trust people, and himself.
Throughout the book, Will and Lennox build a stronger physical relationship. Will was a virgin when they had met, but that’s no longer the case. Expect plenty of how-to scenes, and many more deep-connecting moments. Will demands that Lennox look at him–see him–when they make love, because this IS love to him, and he needs Lennox to be engaged. It’s tender even when it’s tense. They have adventures in big cities, and giant dreams to chase. The book ends on a hopeful note, and with a promise to keep the story going.
For me, as a reader, I think this story jumped in too fast. I get that it’s a sequel, but I didn’t know any characters or any history, and too many giant things were happening in the first couple chapters that didn’t make any sense–having not read the first book. Others who have read that story will probably like the beginning, but it was a tough go, for me. Being a reader of many series, I always appreciate when there is a mingling of the history to properly orient me to what’s happening now, because it might be years between books–and I may have literally read hundreds of stories in the interim. Even with my excellent memory, I like a little backstory to get me into a book. So, that hindered my appreciation from the start. Lennox is a tough kid to like, by design. He’s belligerent and unconscionably rude. Even those closest to him are in his line of verbal fire, and it got to me. By the end, however, I could see him mellowing, and that’s a good sign that he’s growing up and out of his tantrum phase. It’s a testament to the strength of Will’s love that he never let Lennox rub him raw, and he never let Lennox give up on himself. Will is a great kid and his parents are solid support, for both boys. While I struggled to like Lennox, I swooned for Will. I’m hopeful that they each find a good path in the next book–which requires them to separate for college. There’s a lot of conflict inherent in that premise, and I expect that these guys will continue to be intimate with the phrase: the struggle is real.
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!
Meet the author:
Zane Riley is a transgender writer who wrote his first work of fan fiction in the fourth grade. He is a recent transplant to Vancouver, Washington where he spends his time watching long distance baseball games, hiking, and exploring the musical depths of the internet. His first novel, Go Your Own Way, was published by Interlude Press in 2015.