Most people called it a cult. But for twenty years, Josh and Caleb called it home.
In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.
But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.
It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.
Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.
Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?
Warning: Contains a hot male/male romance, copious instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and love against the kitchen counter. This book was previously released under the title: In Front of God & Everyone.
5 stars — OMG guys, I don’t even know what to say except this was so my kind of book. Like you know how you have those specific kinds of things that just shoot a book over the top for you? Well this book had them all. I have an unhealthy fascination with books about characters from religious cults. I love best friends to lovers stories. And I adore male/male romances. Plus a million little things that I could never put into words.
I fell in love with both characters, obviously, but perhaps more for Josh than Caleb. Josh had such a sweet naivety to him, and he was just so damaged from living in fear that someone would find out his “sinful” thoughts. The compound did a real number on him, from the doctrines that they were taught, to the people who mentally abused him by tearing him down at every chance, to the family that basically abandoned him. At times I was flabbergasted at the stark difference between Josh and Caleb, because even with Caleb’s ability to leave the compound, I didn’t understand how he was able to see the compound for what it was so much more than Josh. But as I went on with the book, I could really tell how the differences in their family situations growing up could make an impact, could allow Josh to believe it more fully with less skepticism.
And Josh just developed even more fully in their time outside the compound, and my heart ached for how lost he seemed. How everything that drew him in reinforced the horrible things the bullies made him feel about himself. I was so invested in his growth, in watching him love his new jobs, and eventually come to understand that that was OK. And seeing him stand up for himself against Caleb was both heartbreaking and rewarding.
Since a larger part of the book was in Josh’s POV, I did feel I got to know him a bit more, but I fell in love with Caleb all the same. It’s funny, b/c I felt like we got to see more of his damage in the second half of the book, and the effects of the compound on him were more subtle perhaps. But I loved that he wasn’t as strong and together as we might have thought at first glimpse. I wasn’t expecting it, I thought his contributions to the story would be more wrt the romance, but it’s funny how those we see as so together can sometimes be hiding great strain and sorrow. There’s a TINY part of me that perhaps wanted more from him, but I’m also OK with it because I loved the story we got.
The romance was amazing. Seeing them figure things out together, and struggle against their upbringing and their fears to embrace what they desired was very fulfilling. Obviously the steam factor was amazing, right from the first kiss. It’s kind of funny, b/c it’s like taking the fears of most LGBT folks and magnifying it a bit. Fear of being discovered, shame of their feelings, fear over being accepted by their loved ones, fear of losing their loved ones because of who they love.
And then to top off this amazing story of Josh and Caleb, we got a FANTASTIC set of secondary characters, some of whom we got to see a bit of their own story as well (Maggie and Daniel). I LOVED the dynamic of a runaway from the cult wanting to help other runaways from the cult. I truly believed in the bond they shared from their shared experience, and how they became a family. And I appreciated that Ms. Bowen added more to the story in little bits, like Maggie’s struggle after Chloe’s birth. I loved how much love they had to give to each other.
And it wasn’t just these more major secondary characters, I also loved the minor ones. From Washington, to the tiny glimpse of Trey, to Caleb’s work buddies. They all added something to the story.
So there’s my gushing review. When this first came out, it pained me that I didn’t have time to read it right away, b/c I had a feeling I was going to be in love. Thank the baby jesus that Ms. Bowen republished it under her name, b/c what if I’d never discovered it otherwise? That would have been a travesty. A travesty I tell you!