Sutphin Boulevard by Santino Hassell
A Five Boroughs Story
Michael 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.
Before I started this book I knew I should expect dark and gritty. I knew I should expect roller coaster feelings. I knew I should expect out of this world hot sex scenes… I got all of this. What I did not expect was to be hit so hard by this story.
Have you ever read a book and found a character and said… Oh, hell! I’ve been there. I’ve seen this. I’ve felt that. I’ve thought that exact same thing… And then realize how difficult, and how painful is to find yourself in that character, because mirrors show you everything, and sometimes what they show you isn’t pretty. Sometimes what they show you, hurts. But, also, what they show you makes you grow, and makes you understand, and sometimes it’s a huge wake up call.
Sutphin Boulevard is told from Michael’s POV. This amazing guy, with his witty remarks, and his I give zero fecks attitude won me over, but not for the usual reasons. You see, I feel like queer literature in the M/M romance subgenre is full of white knight heroes. You know, the awesome gay guy that everyone loves. He’s usually funny, cute, very composed, sexy as hell, and most of the times, pretty much… flawless. This is good, I don’t mind… But I want complex. I want to read about a man that has many facets. I want to read about a man that is strong but at the same time falters. I want to read about his life, his thoughts, his fears, his ambitions, his dreams, his passion, his love. When I read a book, I want to be able to relate. Hassell gave me a character I could relate to. He have me a character that relfected not only bits of me, but bits of those I love. Those who, like Michael, have been lost, and have struggled. Those who, like Michael, thought that they had it all under control, when in reality they were disappearing in a world of thoughts and fears, and regrets.
While this is Michael’s journey, he doesn’t travel alone. Nunzio and Michael have been friends for twenty years. Ever since they met as kids they have been inseparable. Nunzio is Michael’s rock, his strength (and vise-versa). Nunzio is much more relaxed, he’s caring, and he’s a loving guy, but he’s also incredibly strong. He is gorgeous, and incredibly patient. Having loved your best friend for so long, and keeping it to yoruself until the time is right, when he realizes that there is much more between the two of you than friendship, takes a lot. I loved how selfless, yet centered Nunzio was. I loved that despite that deep love that he has for Michael, he knew when to step aside, and let Michael go so he could fix whatever needed to be fixed. You see, Michael is dealing with addictions, and at some point Nunzio knows that he needs to step aside for a bit (while still being there in some way) so Michael can put himself together. There no heartbreaking, pre-fabricated scenes with tons of I love yous and tons of promises… But there is one man, asking for time and patience to put himself together and fight his way back to the top, and there is another man silently taking in those words and having an enormous amount of faith in the person he loves the most. That is love. That is true love. That is the kind of love that we all should aspire to. The kind of love that with simple actions and words tells us all we need to know. When you drown, when you get lost somewhere and are trying to find you, the world still spins. People continue with their lives and it’s in no one else but in yourself to collect the pieces of who you were and try to place them together to become who you will be. After a very dark and painful experience, Michael understands this. There is no magic recipe to dissolve or eliminate his problems, no magic words. There is only himself, and his determination. He is his own savior, his own white knight. I loved this, and I loved it because this is how things are in real life. I loved this because it’s the only way it would really work. It’s the only way that the change would become permanent.
Even though everything we learn about Nunzio is through Michael’s eyes, we really get to know him well. The writing is so brilliant that it delivers every little detail and emotion that BOTH of the MC’s are experiencing in an outstanding way. Their relationship is strong, and beautiful. It carries that unspoken trust and strong bond that long term friendships have, and that when they turn into that raw, desperate, passionate, love, it becomes explosive. The sex scenes are hot. So. Incredibly. Hot. The way they touch each other, breathe each other, feel each other. The way they want to possess and live the other person is absolutely mesmerizing.
There is much more to this book than romance. While romance plays a part here, the truth is that what we find here is the story of a man as a whole, with all its parts. Michael is Puerto Rican. As a Mexican woman, I must say that I loved the portrayal of the Latin culture in this book. I have to say that this is by far the best I’ve read in this genre. The portrayal of family relations was very accurate where cultural representation is concerned. There were so many things I read in this book that took me back to my childhood or teenage years and filled me with all kinds of emotions because it was painted so well. It felt real.
This is not your typical M/M Romance book. Santino takes risks, all the risks you can imagine. He tells this story with a beautiful, powerful and captivating prose, and strong, defined characters.
Discover New York through the eyes of diversity, through the eyes of a Puerto Rican man that bares his soul to you through Hassell’s words. Discover his battles. Discover the man he loves, Nunzio, and his enigmatic blue eyes. Discover two men that hold on to each other, and save each other multiple times without even consciously knowing it. Let them break you and put you back together.
Live their journey. It’s so much worth it.