Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble ( website | twitter )
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Target audience: Mature YA/adult
Keywords: marching band, HIV, romance, LGBT
Format read: Paperback ARC from author. (Thanks!!)
Other books I’ve reviewed by Trumble: Don’t Let Me Go | Where You Are
Summary: Luke is an uncoordinated clarinetist in his high school’s marching band, and Curtis is a band alum, a college man, who helps out as a band tech. After a dramatic breakup, Luke is determined not to pursue any other guy until he really thinks it can work. Of course, he falls for off-limits Curtis. While Curtis thinks Luke is cute, he also think he’s a kid (even though he’s only 2 years younger than he is), but can’t help falling into a friendship with him anyway. As the two get closer, Curtis discovers he has HIV and realizes he has no idea where this relationship or his future stands.
There’s something about J.H. Trumble’s work that makes me feel automatically at ease. For practically all of my other reading, it takes a good chunk of pages (a few chapters) before I’m “in it” but give me five pages of a Trumble story and I am completely comfortable.
In Just Between Us (a book that falls between her first and second, time-wise), I was once again surrounded by characters that felt like friends and situations that could easily be unfolding around me in real time. I’m pretty much at home on a marching band field so there’s that, and then there’s Luke, a clarinetist (I was one too!), who gets yelled at / made fun of because he’s not always on the beat. (That was me too.) I’ve met Luke before (in Don’t Let Me Go); he reminds me of an enthusiastic puppy who really wants to love everyone and be loved. Underneath this veneer, Luke is dealing with the prejudices of a father who has been so outwardly unsupportive of his son’s sexuality that his mother has dissolved their relationship.
At the same, Curtis has transferred colleges after a year of too much sex, too much drinking, and too little studying. He’s returned to his high school as a band tech, where everyone reveres him as a marching band god. Luke catches his eye early on, and when they discover they are neighbors they start a friendship. (Curtis’ twin sister — a sort of mini-Mom — is really pushing for him to pursue Luke.) You can tell the two really like each other but both are a little on the fence. Luke doesn’t want Curtis to be a rebound after his first heartbreak, and Curtis is nervous about the age difference and his tendency to lose control of himself when he’s with a guy.
And that’s all before the bomb is dropped: Curtis discovers he contracted HIV last year.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Curtis does not act like a responsible adult after hearing his diagnosis. He thinks it is a death sentence. (It is not.) He behaves irrationally; he is mean and distant and he refuses, absolutely refuses, to take care of himself. He is so busy thinking WHAT IS THE POINT that precious time is being lost: for his body, for his relationship with Luke, and for his openess with his fantastic family.
Trumble does not make Just Between Us a walking pamphlet about HIV. It was not weighed down with facts and statistics. She brought awareness to the surface with the varied emotions that Curtis comes to feel, the ugly words that are said in dark cars, the stark honesty from friends, and the imperfect process of owning up to your responsibilities and accepting all that comes next. Like fighting like hell to live a healthy, normal life.
It helps that Curtis’ story is counterbalanced by Luke’s fractured relationship with his dad, a lively and sweetly accepting younger brother, and a mother who must make a difficult decision between a man who she has loved since she was young and this father who has become careless with his sons’ identities. Just Between Us overflows with powerful dynamics and differing levels of support from all of those in Luke and Curtis’ lives. In the end, though, both stories are fused by the journey to get to one place: acceptance.
Just Between Us is just further proof that J.H. Trumble is a mastermind when it comes to writing about real people who feel real things and don’t always make the right decisions. I am always so wrapped up and so invested in the lives of her characters, and immediately wanted to go back and re-read her other two books. (Especially since my fav, Robert from WYA, makes a series of appearances in JBU.) It’s the best (and possibly the worst) to never want to leave the world an author has created, even if you are left to utterly miss the people within it.
I cannot wait to see what comes next from J.H.