Dec 29 2014 4:30pm

First Look: Amy Jo Cousins’s Off Campus (December 30, 2014)

Off Campus by Amy Jo CousinsAmy Jo Cousins
Off Campus (Bend or Break)
Samhain / December 30, 2014 / $6.50 digital

Everyone’s got secrets. Some are just harder to hide.

With his father’s ponzi scheme assets frozen, Tom Worthington believes finishing college is impossible unless he can pay his own way. After months sleeping in his car and gypsy-cabbing for cash, he’s ready to do just that.

But his new, older-student housing comes with an unapologetically gay roommate. Tom doesn’t ask why Reese Anders has been separated from the rest of the student population. He’s just happy to be sleeping in a bed.

Reese isn’t about to share his brutal story with his gruff new roommate. You’ve seen one homophobic jock, you’ve seen ’em all. He plans to drag every twink on campus into his bed until Tom moves out. But soon it becomes clear Tom isn’t budging.

Tom isn’t going to let some late-night sex noise scare him off, especially when it’s turning him on. But he doesn’t want any drama either. He’ll keep his hands, if not his eyes, to himself. Boundaries have a way of blurring when you start sharing truths, though. And if Tom and Reese cross too many lines, they may need to find out just how far they can bend…before they break.

Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins starts with what sounds like a classic sit-com premise: a down-on-his-luck, straight (...ish) former athlete finds himself sharing a dorm room with an out gay student who would rather room with Caligula than with a privileged jock. But wacky hijinks don't ensue—although many sexy ones do. Tom and Reese have more in common than it initially appears: both have suffered deeply, have serious trust issues, and have evolved some not-so-healthy coping mechanisms. Tom has thrown himself into survival and schoolwork, ignoring other people as much as possible. Reese has strictly controlled hook-ups with strangers. Their coming together will require letting down walls through careful negotiation and exploration.

The basic premise is textbook New Adult: a romance between two college students, one with money troubles and the other with a major sexual trauma in his past. Also typical: there are important coming of age aspects—Tom's coming to terms with being queer, as well as with his past—and there are the usual best friends to provide support and comic relief. But I particularly enjoyed how well Off Campus fit the New Adult subgenre without being overpowered by its tropes and conventions.

One notable difference from the pack is that it's told in third person, although exclusively from Tom's point of view. Another is that it's emotional without utterly wallowing in angst. Neither Tom nor Reese enjoys dwelling on their problems, and their eventual efforts to face them are grounded in realism rather than melodrama.  And though sex is sometimes one of their shared problems, there's a welcome lightness to many of their interactions:

“If I tell you how much I wanna suck your dick again, in extreme detail, think I can get you off before he gets there?”

Tom sat up straight, jeans instantly tight in the crotch as his penis swelled, half-hard in an instant at Reese's cheerful question.

“Holy shit.” He dropped his hand to his lap reflexively and squeezed the rough fabric over his dick. The newly healing skin on his hand stretched tight as his grip flexed.

“Let's give it the old college try, shall we?”

It was like talking to an Oxford don on crack. Porn crack.

But what I found most intriguing about Off Campus was the unexpectedness of the ending. There are certain pat resolutions that seem expected, almost inevitable for this kind of story, yet it just doesn't go there. The result feels realistic, yet thoroughly fresh and satisfying.

Learn more about or pre-order a copy of Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins, available December 30:

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Willaful has been diligently reading and reviewing romance for the past seven years, but for some reason just can't seem to catch up. She blogs at A Willful Woman and Karen Knows Best.

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1 comment
1. Kareni
I finally got to read this and enjoyed it very much. A belated thank you for this review.
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