I received this book as an ARC through NetGalley.
I really enjoyed this book. I was a bit apprehensive with the religious aspects of this book, but I was pleasantly surprised it wasn't preachy at all. Mark is deeply religious, but his is the sort of faith that he build his life on. It is his rock, his source of strength and comfort. He isn't the sort of person who feels the need to push his religion onto others, or judge others for their faith or lack thereof. He is a good man struggling to find his place in his church, his family, and his community. I loved how he much he struggled to hold himself to the principals and values he believes in. He struggled to be the kind of person he believes his God has called him to be. He fails, but he doesn't keep trying.
I really liked Lucas as well. His struggles to be a different, and a better person. He never excuses what he did. He never makes excuses, passes the blame, or expects people to forget His support system is nearly non existent, and his friends from before only make things worse, but he doesn't use it as an excuse for not trying to do better. He is bound and determined to be different, and does all he can to make it happen no matter how many people seem to be waiting for him to mess up even slightly.
I liked their connection. There was no hint of instant love, and it takes time for them to learn to understand each other. Mark needs to learn to see Lucas as he really is, and not as he imagined him to be. They both have to learn to trust each other, and seeing them fall in love was beautiful.
The plot was rich, and complicated. I appreciated that things were difficult, and messy. That there were no simple solutions or easy answers. Life isn't always about innocence or guilt or even right and wrong. I liked that the secondary cast was richly developed, and their stories were an integral part of the story. I liked that characters could, and did change, and not always for the better. It made Mark and Lucas's story feel more real, and more honest. The ending was well done, and didn't feel fairy tale happy or fake. It was a genuine sort of happy ending. Not an easy read, but a realy strong one.