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The Man I Love, written by first-time novelist Suanne Laqueur, follows the journey of Erik Fiskare, a young man who seems to have everything going for him. He’s happily situated in his college’s technical theatre program, has a wonderful group of friends, and found the love of his life, Daisy. Everything in his life seems perfect, but when disaster strikes Erik and his friends must learn to how to cope. Will they be able to heal together? Will Erik find himself spiraling through the trauma he does not have to tools to deal with, and could it mean losing the most important thing in his life?

At first glance, The Man I Love doesn’t raise any eyebrows. The plot comes across as not only overdone, but supremely cliché. Readers meet Erik, who is good at everything, but oh-so-humble about his talents. Erik goes off to college and immediately experiences love at first sight. After all, he is an instant chick-magnet. He’s described as having “good looks and a sunny nature”, he can fix anything with his hands, and he used to study piano but now rocks out on guitar (although he can still whip out a Bach piece on the piano when necessary, to impress the ladies). Basically, the first two chapters read, to this reviewer, like trivial fan-fiction written by a lovesick teenage girl.

This did not last long.

While some parts of the story, especially in the first half of the book, continue to feel somewhat cliché, this book is so well written that these parts don’t matter. For a previously unpublished author, Laqueur manages to pull off a fabulous first novel. Her story is written so elegantly, so beautifully, and so deliciously that a reader won’t mind a certain predictability. Readers will be grasping this book, begging to know more, until the final page is devoured. The first part is filled with chapters that will make readers blush and swoon, while the second half takes a heartbreaking twist. Even after reading the back of the book and knowing what is coming, it still hurts to experience it through Laqueur’s words. The characters are immediately likable, especially Will and Kees, so by the time the major inciting incident occurs readers will be rooting for the characters so ingrained into their hearts to pull through.

What The Man I Love gets right is the grit of it all. Laqueur does not shy away from sex, exploring her protagonists’ sexuality in full during both the blissful years of their lives and the traumatic ones. When the book takes it’s harrowing turn, what started as a loving exploration of two youths’ sex becomes an examination of the aftermath of PTSD. This heartfelt love story is transformed into a tale about the power of communication, the toll trauma takes on survivors, the burden of words left unsaid, and connections between people that can last a lifetime. Truly what might have been a derivative story is crafted into a beautiful, yet heartrending, love story, thanks to Laqueur’s emotional rawness and compelling writing.

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