Review: Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell

Karen’s Review of Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell
Contemporary (M/M) romance released by Dreamspinner Press on July 31, 2015

Sutphin BoulevardMichael Rodriguez and Nunzio Medici have been friends for two decades. From escaping their dysfunctional families in the working-class neighborhood of South Jamaica, Queens to teaching in one of the city’s most queer friendly schools in Brooklyn, the two men have shared everything. Or so they thought until a sweltering night of dancing leads to an unexpected encounter that forever changes their friendship.

Now, casual touches and lingering looks are packed with sexual tension, and Michael can’t forget the feel of his best friend’s hands on him. Once problems rear up at work and home, Michael finds himself seeking constant escape in the effortless intimacy and mind-blowing sex he has with Nunzio. But things don’t stay easy for long.

When Michael’s world begins to crumble in a sea of tragedy and complications, he knows he has to make a choice: find solace in a path of self-destruction or accept the love of the man who has been by his side for twenty years.

Occasionally you read a book that blindsides you.

You expect that you will get what you read on the blurb, but actually get much more, this was one of those books for me. And while at times it wasn’t an easy read, it was always completely a worthwhile and fulfilling one.

The premise is simple, friends to lovers. Micheal and Nunzio have grown up together, and they are the best of friends, loving, supportive, sarcastic and bitchy. Michaeal is the narrator and his family life, is a mess. Nunzio is his go to, his rock. It seems such a simple premise really, and on one level it is – Micheal gradually begins to realise how Nunzio has felt about him for most of their adult lives. Running in parallel is Michael’s relationship with his family, especially his alcoholic father . The book is set in New York City, and the flavour of the place is incredibly strong, in many ways the potency of the location was almost as much of a pull to me as the relationships.

Micheal is one of those love to hate characters, you read his life literally falling apart on the page and you want to shake him. Micheal’s coping mechanism is booze – he’s happy he drinks, he’s sad, he drinks and before long the party boy starts to become someone he and his friends can barely recognize. Anyone who has an obsessive type of personality can relate to Micheal, that desire to escape from the sound of your own thoughts, for most of us it’s manageable to degrees until bam… in this case family tragedy.

His descent into self -hatred and destruction is pretty swift, and heart breaking.

Nunzio in theory should be ‘less’ of pull, and also he has a lot less page time. However as we see him through Micheal’s eyes he is wonderful, not perfect by any stretch, but in fact perfect for Micheal. Nunzio supports Micheal with every fibre,  I don’t think I have read such a strong depiction of friendship in a long time, and all the time it’s bitter sweet because you know that he also loves Micheal. But he’s not a selfless doormat, he calls Micheal on his poor life choices but ultimately he is there for him all the time. There were times I shouted at my book with frustration on their relationship, but at no time did it feel stilted or false.

All this makes Sutphin Boulevard sound like the book you don’t want to read when you’re sad, but that’s not the case. The location, New York, is wonderfully depicted in it’s callous multicultural vibrancy. I have lived in SE London almost all my adult life, and that feeling of community and family that you can get from people who are very dissimilar to you culturally is wonderful, and is beautifully done here. The initial romance between Micheal and Nunzio is heart warming and funny as well

However for me the strength isn’t in the things that I can relate directly to, but to the ability of Santino Hassell create a book that made a Puerto Rican man a kind of Everyman, so that even where there are differences I felt him, I felt his happiness and pain, and ultimately I wanted him to have his happy ending.

I haven’t read a book that moved me quite so much in a very long time, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Grade: A+

You can read an excerpt here or buy a copy here.

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