Trust Jayce Ellis to take my second-least-favorite trope (problems could be solved by just TALKING to each other) and make it a deeply readable story that had my heart both warmed and wrenched in equal measures. Yes, a simple conversation might have gotten these two together any time over the last twenty years – but Ellis has made it clear that actually having that conversation isn’t such a simple proposition, with a gentle, slow-rolled reveal of each character’s back story and what they’re willing to do for each other while never quite crossing that line – and why. This story, perhaps because of its deep roots in a decades-long friendship, is slower-paced than some of my previous Ellis faves, but anything lost in the lack of a plunging story arc is more than made up for in pure depth of feeling. You are absolutely immersed in feelings in this book. If you want to wallow in some yearning, Learned Reactions is where you need to be.
And can we talk about friends to lovers? On Twitter, I said that this book had the most friends-to-lovers who have ever friends-to-lovered and I STAND BY IT. This relationship is amazing. Their friendship is amazing, their love is amazing, and watching them gently transition from one to the other like they were FATED TO DO IT is amazing. AND! In the midst of all that, there are other exceptional friendships! This book happens concurrently with the previous book in the series, and it’s SO cool to watch each of the friends featured go through their own stuff – glimpses into Matt and Jaq’s story that we recognize from the first book, and hints at Lawrence’s story (which I CANNOT WAIT to read, FYI) going on all at the same time, expertly woven together into a seamless plotline. There’s so much craft here!
This book also has a lot of deep thought about family – one of my favorite fictional topics – and what it means, who it’s for, who wants it, and how they get it. There’s found family, biological family, supportive families, unsupportive ones, revelations about the nature of family, and so much more. Watching these characters discover the family they truly want is beautiful, and seeing them actually reflect on it with mature perspective is amazing. This is yet another of Ellis’ books that feature characters who are grown; the men in this series are all in their late thirties (so far! HMMM), grappling with adult careers, college-aged kids, and more – and it’s so refreshing. Don’t get me wrong, I love young love, and Ellis writes that expertly, too (see the High Rise books!), but this is just so dang relatable. And the kids! Are so good! Olivia was an amazing character, and I adore her and want only good things for her immediately.
To conclude: *pats book* You can fit so much YEARNING in this bad boy. A+.