How do you speak about the unspeakable? Nick Melnikov is happy and in love with London and with Dex Cartwell. So why does he feel like he can't breathe every time he thinks about returning to the US and his Russian family? Nick wants to be brave, about himself and his love, but how do you fight the fear and silence nurtured inside of you since the day you were born?
From the author of Abroad comes its much-anticipated sequel, bringing a much-needed conclusion to this captivating duology.
Abroad first caught my attention when I learned that the author and I have similar backgrounds, and it held my attention (tightly) for its engaging narrative, incredible character development, and close resemblance to my own life. Like Nick, I have often struggled to define myself, not quite Ukranian-Russian, not quite American, existing with a hyphenated identity, with the added detail of being Jewish. Also like Nick, I come from a background that doesn't like to talk about certain things—especially queerness. For years, I thought I was straight because heteronormativity didn't allow for anything else, but I have since come to realize my attraction to more than one sex and gender. Unfortunately, I've also come to realize how the culture my family has come from deters me from being able to say this out loud to them, meaning I have to hide something about myself from the people I love, no matter how much I don't want to. I have felt almost everything that Nick has, from defensiveness to anxiety to fear, torn between wanting to just be myself as well as the fear of being exposed and vulnerable and scared of losing my family. Luckily, also like Nick, I've surrounded myself with open-minded people, with people like myself, who know what I'm going through, an situation unfortunately still not available to many.
In Abroad: Book One, Nick is torn between accepting his truth, or lying to himself, denying what he knows in his heart to be true, such as his attraction to men. In Abroad: Book Two, he is torn between wanting to keep his secrets, such as his relationship with Dex, versus his desire to be free and accepting of himself, while balancing the fear of what his family will say. The more time Dex spends time with Nick, the harder he falls for him, but he has his own fears, worrying whether Nick can ever truly understand where he came from as a openly queer Black man, or whether their relationship will fall apart once Nick returns to the US or whether Nick will ever be completely honest about he is and who they are together. Their friend Izzy, who herself just discovered her bisexuality, struggles to understand the tension in her group of friends, fighting to understand how to reconnect to those she feels closest to, while falling for someone whom she doesn't know can be as honest with her as she is with everyone else.
In addition to romance, Abroad: Book Two features a number of sex scenes. In general, each scene of intimacy is powerfully consensual, with each character consulting their own and their partners' boundaries and pleasures carefully and respectfully, without losing any of the story's steam. Each scene serves to move the plot forward, exploring certain characters' evolving sexualities, as well as highlighting the relationship dynamic between partners. Like Abroad: Book One, the sequel features some of the most sensual scenes I've seen in fiction in a long time, well-written without being fetishistic or obnoxious, deliciously tender and sweet.
Abroad: Book Two is an organic extension of the original novel, offering an emotionally satisfying conclusion to a coming-of-age narrative. To anyone who comes from a similar background or has ever felt like an outsider in their own home, who's looking for positive and diverse representation, I cannot recommend this book enough.