Unconventionally Building THE FAMILY WE MAKE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary M/M romance from Dan Wingreen. THE FAMILY WE MAKE features a single dad raising his teen son, and falling hard for the Big Brother he’s connected to help his kid make friends.

About the book:
Spencer Kent gave up on love a long time ago. As a twenty-eight-year-old single father with a fourteen-year-old son, Connor, he knows his appeal to the average gay man is limited, and when you factor in his low self-esteem and tendencies towards rudeness and sarcasm, it might as well be nonexistent. But that’s okay. A man is the last thing Spencer needs or wants.

Tim Ellis’s life is falling apart around him. After four years of hard work at college, he finds himself blacklisted from the career of his dreams by the professor he refused to sleep with and abandoned by the boyfriend he thought he was going to marry. Even though he was lucky enough to land a job at a bakery, he still feels like a failure.

Tim and Spencer’s first meeting is filled with turbulent misunderstanding, but Tim makes a connection with Connor through a Big Brother/Big Sister program, and both men put aside their mutual dislike for his sake. By letting go, they may help each other find their way into a life they never could have imagined.

Warning: References to attempted sexual coercion by a male professor towards a male college student, references to a female high school teacher having sexual relations with unnamed underage male students.

My Review:
Spencer Kent is a 28 year old father to his mini-me, Connor, who is 14. Yep, teen dad was trying prove something when he got a girl prego in 8th grade. Heterosexuality didn’t take, however, and Spencer has long since given up on finding a man who will actually want to be with him and his son. He only dated two guys in college, and that was a long time ago. Thankfully, Spencer’s parents were totally supportive, helping to raise Connor so Spencer could complete high school and college. Connor is as gangly and awkward as his father was in his teens. He’s also got big abandonment issues because he never knew his mother and his dad was away at college for a couple of years–until his parents moved house from New York to Ohio so that Spencer could live with his son and commute for his schooling.

Spencer and Connor now live in Chicago, in a house Gram and Gramps bought, where Spencer is a literature teacher–one of those cringe-y mean ones, in fact. He’s a lot of bluster and fuss, forcing young minds into actual introspection and critical thinking and learning. So, there’s that. Connor is a freshman at Spencer’s school, yet, somehow no one knows this. Connor is even placed into Spencer’s literature class, which Spencer likes because he wants to keep a close eye on his son. And, what he notices–beyond the bullies Connor refuses to report–is that Connor has no friends. Not one. And this distresses Spencer on an acute level. His good friend Cass, a fellow teacher, urges Spencer to take Connor to a nearby Big Brother-type organization run by her ex-husband. There, Cass states, Connor can meet a college-aged volunteer who will befriend him and help him gain social and emotional skills to be successful.

Tim Ellis thought he’d be pursuing his doctorate in child psychology this fall, and planning his wedding, too. Unfortunately, one of his professors refused to recommend him to a program without sexual favors in exchange, and Tim is convinced his refusal has him blacklisted. Then, his crappy boyfriend got mad that he wasn’t going to grad school and left him, taking his kinda-fake friends in the bargain. Working as a baker, Tim is feeling really low in terms of self-esteem and joins a volunteer organization to work with children who could use a positive influence in their lives. He’s used to working with younger kids, but the director says their program mainly caters to teens. His first two mentees are not a good fit, and he’s afraid the director will bounce him out if he doesn’t connect to candidate number three.

Tim is wary when he meets both Connor and his dad Spencer for the first time; most kids arrive at the youth center without their parents. He’s panicked when Spencer’s acidic questions impugn him as a possible child molester. It’s a bad scene and only Connor’s near-terminal embarrassment at his father’s behavior squelches the ugly interaction. Tim realizes Spencer’s over-protectiveness is a product of his deep love for Connor, which is a boon. And, he and Connor do hit it off when on their own. Their friendship is beneficial for Connor and Tim, and Spencer sees a positive change in Connor, so he’s happy. He’s also lonely, as I mentioned before. So, when he and Tim encounter each other in a grocery, he’s willing to let Tim help him out with food on the high shelf and maybe meal suggestions.

So, Spencer and Tim develop a bit of a friendship too, and Tim becomes a regular member in the Kent home. Their increased familiarity feeds a mutual attraction that neither man thought was viable. And, when physical affection becomes the next step, they each need to figure out if this is a relationship that can grow in their lives. Tim was gun-shy about finding a new guy, and Spencer never thought a guy would find him attractive–especially a young, fit guy like Tim.

This is a sweet, slow-burn of a romance for an insecure dad and an insecure college grad. The characters have enough backstory and issues to read like real people. Connor’s challenges with anxiety and shyness are genuinely helped by his friendship with Tim, and his growth supports the emotional growth of both Tim and Spencer. There are diverting side stories that keep the story widening out so it’s not just connection and consummation. Political games in Spencer’s school, the issue with ongoing bullying, and the seemingly aimless direction of Tim’s life all bring texture and context to the story. I liked Tim more than Spencer, mainly because Tim is a likeable guy. Spencer is lovable, but one needs to crack beneath his sarcastic shell and see the vulnerability within. Tim is successful at this because of his deep bond with Connor. A bond that doesn’t break once Connor learns that Tim and his dad are in a romantic tangle. Connor is a great kid, and I was glad to see him catch some breaks in the end.

If you like romances where the curmudeon turns into a marshmallow with the help of the right lover, and positive father-son relationship stories, you’ll probably dig this one.

Interested? You can find THE FAMILY WE MAKE on Goodreads, NineStar Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple Books.

About the Author:
Dan lives in Ohio (as people do) with his husband and the most adorable little rescue dog ever. His three favorite things are The Empire Strikes Back, winter, and RPGs. His least favorite thing is pizza. Since the age of twelve, it’s been his dream to write something good enough to get published and, after over a decade of unforgivable procrastination, he actually managed to get it done. Thankfully, what he finally ended up writing turned out much better than the Spider-Man and Eminem fan fiction he wrote in sixth grade. His new dream, which will hopefully take less time to achieve, is to own two Netherland Dwarf bunnies named Bunnedict Thumperbatch and Attila the Bun.

You can find Dan on Twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

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