About the Book
Title: The Making Of Us
Series and Number: Checking Him Out #4
Author: Debbie McGowan
Publisher: Beaten Track Publishing
Publication Date: June 20, 2017
Word Count: 96,000 words (366 pages)
Publisher webpage: http://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/themakingofus
When English Lit. student Jesse Thomas meets Leigh Hunter, he has to reconsider a few assumptions he’s made about himself.
Two years ago, Jesse joined Pride—the uni’s LGBT+ society—to support best friend Noah, and Noah’s boyfriend, Matty. As a straight, cismale ally, Jesse keeps a low profile—not difficult for someone as shy and body-conscious as he is.
Leigh Hunter is Noah and Matty’s new housemate. Born with a life-threatening congenital condition, Leigh is intersex and identifies as queer—none of which alters Jesse’s conviction that they are the most beautiful person in the world.
While Jesse and Leigh get to know each other, a new academic year begins in earnest, bringing with it the usual challenge of balancing work and play. Add in a week’s holiday in Cornwall that Jesse and Leigh half-wish they hadn’t agreed to, Jesse’s unplanned involvement in the election of Pride’s new officers, and some big decisions for Noah and Matty, it’s going to be an interesting semester all round.
NOTE: this is a stand-alone novel.
Before I review, I should make a note that I’ve read all the books in this series, and this one is very different. Not so much in tone but in that it’s less focused on the romance between Jesse and Leigh and much more on Jesse as he tackles some big (pun intended) issues. Despite that, the story is still in keeping with the light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor as well as the emotional and psychological undertones of the series as a whole.
Jesse is entirely likable. He’s not perfect, and he has lots of things he’s dealing with: His size, for one thing, and his developing feelings for Leigh and new understanding of himself. Through a series of sometimes funny, sometimes mortifying, sometimes enraging events, Jesse’s standing up for himself results in an unexpected situation with Pride (the campus LGBT+ group). Watching him fumble his way through it is quite a ride.
Fortunately, Jesse’s friends have his back. After reading the other books, it was utterly fascinating for me to read Noah from a peer’s point of view. I admit I didn’t care for him before, but I had new appreciation for him after this book. Matty, as always, is a delight. Once again, it was interesting seeing him through a friend’s eyes.
Then there’s Leigh. I can’t say enough good things about Leigh. It’s not hard to see why Jesse’s smitten so quickly; I think I would be too. Leigh is one of the most wonderful characters. The relationship between Jesse and Leigh is natural, sweet, and not full of drama or discord. They fit together perfectly, and it’s with Leigh’s love and support that Jesse is able to come out of his shell. This is not because Leigh “rescues” him in any sense. It’s simply the confidence he has knowing Leigh adores him and his friends have his back.
Jesse’s feelings about his body and his weight are an important part of the story. Yes, there are other books about fat characters, but one thing really stood out to me. This is not a Jesse-learns-to-manage-his-weight book. Nor is it really a Fat Pride and Acceptance book. There’s a very little bit of both, but they aren’t the heart of the story. This is much more about who Jesse is becoming as a whole person. Much of what he describes will resonate with anyone who has been through similar issues.
Unlike the rest of the series (except for the novella), there is not much in the way of descriptive, on-page sex. The sensuality is understated, and it fits perfectly with the tone of the story and the characters. Jesse isn’t body-confident, and it would’ve felt to me exploitive and inappropriate to have it be too graphic. There’s a lovely scene of Jesse “taking care of business” in the shower which has this nice feel of being completely G-rated. Even though Jesse’s a fictional character, I had the sense it would’ve been embarrassing for him to know readers could “see” what he was doing. It sets the tone for later on, where there is such a sweet tenderness to his lovemaking with Leigh. The understated quality feels like letting us have a glimpse while still respecting the privacy of their intimate acts.
To me, that’s the hallmark of great storytelling. Everything in this fits together just right in this book. It’s about friendship, love, and who “our people” really are when it comes down to it. Is it a bit of an unusual romance? Yes. But I hope that readers will give it a chance, even if it’s different from the sexy guy-on-guy story fans have come to expect in this series.
For more-to-love characters, good social themes, and a love story sweeter than ice cream, this gets 10/10 fountain pens.
What I loved about Pride was, apart from Sarah, everyone was welcoming and friendly. It was only at Pride socials that I didn’t feel self-conscious about my size. True, there were a few of the guys seriously into the body beautiful, who worked out obsessively and strutted and posed, but that was true of the campus as a whole, not just the gay guys.
Most of the members identified as gay or lesbian; there were a couple of trans students—Jazz being the only one I knew well, because we’d been at Weight Watchers together the previous year. I’d lost six kilos, and I was pretty sure I’d put them all back on again in a matter of weeks. Jazz had lost around twenty kilos and kept the weight off, and she looked amazing. Well, she’d looked amazing before, but now, she was more confident and less self-conscious, and she got to wear clothes that accentuated her curves. Tonight, she was wearing a floor-length dress—red or purple, I thought—with a low back and a fair bit of cleavage on display. With her heels, she wasn’t far off my height.
“She’s beautiful.” Leigh suddenly appeared at my side.
“Y-yeah, she is,” I agreed, but now I’d seen Leigh, and oh my god. Oh my god! I’d never seen Leigh in a dress before. I didn’t think they wore dresses. OK, so I was wrong about that.
It was black and short and sparkly, and the sleeves appeared as if they had slipped down, baring Leigh’s shoulders. No high heels, though. The Doc Martens, with silver laces to match the sparkles in their dress, and as I finally made it back to Leigh’s face, I saw silver eye make-up completed the look.
I was staring, and almost drooling, and I really needed to tell Leigh how beautiful they were. Like, now, before they walked away thinking I had the hots for Jazz.
Leigh stepped away from me and put a hand on their hip. “What are you looking at?”
I swallowed. No spit.
“You.” I cleared my throat. “You’re beautiful.”
For a few seconds, Leigh remained with head tilted and an expression between a sulky scowl and a puzzled frown. But then the scowl disappeared, and in its place was a beaming smile. “Aww, thanks! You like it?” They spun on the spot, the skirt swirling around them in a circle of sparkles that caught in the light. They easily moved as gracefully as Matty, and in big clunky boots as well.
“I love it,” I confirmed—the outfit, the wearer…
Leigh stopped spinning and faked a dizzy stagger, coming close enough to grab my arm. My stomach clearly thought we were on a roller coaster, because it did some kind of rush up into my throat, flipped and plummeted with a thadum. Or that was what it felt like.
“So, you’re here for Noah, I’m guessing?” Leigh asked.
“Um, kind of?”
“And Matty, of course.”
“Yeah. And also…” I wasn’t sure I could say it, for no reason other than I’d never said it before, and to Leigh. After all, it was them who made me realise I wasn’t ‘just an ally’.
“For Jazz?” Leigh guessed.
About the Author
Debbie McGowan is an award-winning author of contemporary fiction that celebrates life, love and relationships in all their diversity. Since the publication in 2004 of her debut novel, Champagne—based on a stage show co-written and co-produced with her husband—she has published many further works—novels, short stories and novellas—including two ongoing series: Hiding Behind The Couch (a literary ‘soap opera’ centring on the lives of nine long-term friends) and Checking Him Out (LGBTQ romance). Debbie has been a finalist in both the Rainbow Awards and the Bisexual Book Awards, and in 2016, she won the Lambda Literary Award (Lammy) for her novel, When Skies Have Fallen: a British historical romance spanning twenty-three years, from the end of WWII to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Through her independent publishing company, Debbie gives voices to other authors whose work would be deemed unprofitable by mainstream publishing houses.