Title: Losing and Gaining
Author: Heidi Champa
Publisher: Amber Allure
Length: 42,000 words, 128 pages
Genre: m/m, Contemporary, Romance
Heat: 3 – Sexy & Mild
Sex Frequency: 3 – Average Story to Sex
Keywords/Tags: First Times, Co-workers, Second Chances, Secrets & Lies, Made Me Cry, Unrequited Love, Heartwarming, (Semi) Angst, HEA
Rating: Pretty Good
Reviewed by Nikyta
**This Review contains some spoilers**
At three-hundred-sixty-seven pounds, Douglas Everett Smith spent his school years being teased and verbally abused almost every day. He was spared by no one, except for Jesse Billson, a classmate who treated him like a normal person. Douglas’s crush on Jesse kept him going when things got really tough, even though deep down he knew Jesse would never see him as anything other than a charity case.
After spending years hating himself and feeling miserable, Douglas finally took action. Two years of hard work and the support of a trainer helped him drop one-hundred-fifty pounds. And, his first name. Now, as the new and improved Everett Smith, he’s thrilled when Jesse Billson comes back into his life. Even more amazing, his schoolboy crush doesn’t even recognize him, but he does start flirting with him. Everett knows he should come clean, but as romantic feelings quickly develop between the men, the fear of losing Jesse makes it harder for Everett to admit the truth about his identity.
But nothing stays hidden forever. And when the old days collide head-on with the new, Everett wonders whether his improved life will fall flat before it gets fully started? Or can he somehow make his past disappear?
Two years ago, at three hundred and sixty-seven pounds, Doug Smith had enough of being pitied and disgusted and finally did something to change all that. He turned his life around by moving to a new town, going by his middle name, Everett, and signing up for a gym. Now, he’s a hundred and fifty pounds lighter but still deals with the daily struggle of not eating anything and everything he wants. He’s also still the shy, nervous and secretive boy he was in high school. When his former crush and classmate, Jesse, gets hired at his job, he’s terrified of his past coming back to haunt him again. He doesn’t expect for Jesse not to recognize him nor for Jesse to find him attractive but after avoiding Jesse for several weeks, he finally agrees to a date. Soon their fledgling relationship starts becoming more serious. Unfortunately, Everett struggles with revealing to Jesse who he really is. Until the day all of Jesse’s former friends pop up and Everett gets outed before he’s ready to be, creating more hurt feelings than Everett expected.
One of the things I loved about this book was Everett. The way the author handled his feelings on his weight problems and his struggle to be where he is today was spot on, IMO. Everett loves and misses food but he wants to be normal more than he wants to indulge in sweets and junk food. I also felt like the author captured Everett’s downhill spiral accurately when things got messy with Jesse. It’s heartbreaking the self-loathing and disgust Everett has for himself, though. It made me cry because Everett is definitely harsher on himself than others are. Beyond that, Everett is a shy, inexperienced character. He’s a virgin and never been in a relationship. The one experience he had ends in his humiliation. When Jesse comes along, Everett is nervous he’ll screw things up because of what Jesse would think of a twenty-seven year old virgin and the rejection if Jesse found out he used to be Doug.
I liked Jesse to a certain extent. I loved how he handled Everett’s vulnerability and how sweet and kind he was to Everett most of the time. Unfortunately, that was usually only when him and Everett were alone. One of the things I didn’t like about Jesse was how dismissive and cold he was when around others. Especially at work. And around his friends and family he seemed more focused on hanging out with them than being around Everett. He seemed more like the jock he was instead of the ‘changed’ man he is now. But he was very gentle and caring towards and with Everett. There are definitely some sweet moments within this story and ultimately he helps Everett come to terms with who he was and who he is now.
Beyond that, the only other thing I didn’t like about the story was how it glossed over much of the more important scenes (at least to me) like the meeting of both sets of parents, Rodney’s apology to Everett and when/where Jesse asked Everett to move in. Granted, the epilogue was very cute and made me smile so I’m glad we at least got that but I just wished the rest would have been fleshed out because I would have loved to see how everyone took their relationship after what happened and such.
All in all, this is both a heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Heartbreaking because of Everett’s self-loathing but heartwarming because of his ultimate acceptance of merging the fat boy he was into the healthy, fit man he is now and finally accepting his past self. The secondary characters, Matt and Gabi, make the story come alive and help it move along when things heat up as well as add funny moments to the plot. The tension and chemistry between Jesse and Everett is hot and believable especially since its dabbles a bit with an unrequited crush.