Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Anyone who has entered Sarina Bowen’s True North series has met the baker at Zara and Audrey’s Busy Bean: Roderick. The accomplished and talented baker is responsible for their improvement in business and energy. With Sarina Bowen’s newest book, Roommate, we are treated to his story, and in the same vein as her Him and Us’s Wesmie or The Understatement of Years’s Rikker and Graham or even, Top Secret’s Keaton and Luke, we recognize quickly that not all LGBTQA+ couples are created the same. The prodigiousness of Sarina Bowen’s ability to craft diverse couples such as these, along with Roderick and Kieran’s coupleship in Roommate, is the reason that I keep coming back for more.
Roommate follows Roderick, the baker for the Busy Bean, and his struggle to find a home, a place where he truly belongs. Having broken off an emotionally abusive relationship and returned home with the hope of acceptance by his parents, he finds out quickly that he is on his own. After struggling to find a job and a place to live initially, Roderick finds employment with the Busy Bean where he begins to find a place to belong. Still struggling to find a place to live, he is saved by his sullen co-worker, Kieran, who has recently begun renting Zara’s rental home. Believing that Kieran doesn’t like him, he is confused at first by this act, but he realizes quickly that there is more to Kieran. As the story unfolds, you find out quickly the reason for Kieran’s quietude.
I think what I love most about Roommate is Bowen’s insistence on finding new spaces for her characters. Her wildly successful M/M duet Him and Us shows us one aspect of M/M romance with one character exploring the definition of his sexuality and the other exploring the depths of his ability to love, to do relationships. With her other stories, we find characters who deny themselves out of their worry over being judged in coming out of the closet. In Roommate, Bowen follows a bit of her formula where one character completely acknowledges and lives his sexuality, while the other is still trying to understand it. What I adore in this story is Kieran’s emphatic acceptance of being gay. His struggle isn’t with his sexuality; it’s in exploring the intimacy of relationships with anyone. There are distinct reasons for this in Roommate, reasons you should read the book to consider. Therefore, what Bowen has done in this story is identify a human failing, not one tied to one’s sexuality. To be fair, I haven’t read many other M/M books by diverse authors, so my knowledge is limited, but I appreciate the way that Bowen chalks up Kieran’s issues to familial shortcomings, not recognizing that his sexuality.
Similarly, Roderick has been burned in his past. He has been closeted against his volition, so he too struggles with the intimacy of a relationship. He needs it to be out and proud to forgo feeling his insecurity. As his journey progresses, Bowen adeptly illustrates his acceptance of Kieran’s reasons for his silence. It takes some time and creates the tension of this story, but it’s so beautifully wrought that when the epiphany about Kieran is experienced, you fall apart a little feeling the hurts of these two men. For me, that is where the depth of emotion resides, and it deftly does its job as it tears at your heartstrings.
And finally, many of the characters you love in the True North series are in this book. My favorite is Griffin. He shows his mettle so explicitly that, should you have any misgivings about him after his own story, it is completely erased in this one.
There are so many layers to Roommate, ones that can only be experienced by throwing yourself into this book. I know it’s qualified as a gay romance or an LGBTQ romance, but there is so much more to this story. Sarina Bowen once again has shown how skilled she is at taking the human condition and applying it to the specific lives of people who look and feel and sound like us. In doing so, it connects our own emotions to the trials of her characters, drawing us in and helping us see how we can transcend our own humanness. In the end, Roommate leaves you believing that a life lived on your own terms is the most abundant life.