Helix Book Cover Helix
Anna Martin
M/M Romance/New adult
Dreamspinner Press
February 26, 2019
217

When high school student James has trouble with his truck, Dylan, who is studying to be a mechanic, comes to the rescue. James thinks he hides his immediate attraction well, but is happy to be wrong when Dylan asks for his number. Since James is new to romance, they take things slowly, and because Dylan is in college, James keeps the budding relationship secret from his overprotective dad.

Across town, Mark, a teacher and single father to James and his sister, Frankie, meets Steve at a bar for what both believe will be a quick hookup. Mark doesn’t see any reason to tell his kids about Steve or press Steve for details about Steve’s adopted son…. It’s just sex between them. Isn’t it?

Two very different love stories grow side by side, each hidden from the other. But all of that changes at a family barbecue, when Mark decides it’s time for his kids to meet Steve and for him to meet James’s boyfriend, who none of them realize is Steve’s son, Dylan. The inevitable explosion means the two couples have some explaining to do to soothe the hurt feelings of their families—and lovers.

Reviewed by: Ulysses Dietz

Member of The Paranormal Guild Review Team

This is a solid, well-written and emotionally satisfying romance; one that sort of merges two kinds of gay romance into one – New Adult and the more traditional m/m set-up.

I found the cover sort of random – who is this blond twink wearing shades? He doesn’t seem to look like anybody in the book. Or, if he’s James, why pick one character when there are at least four, if not five important characters?

The title, too, seemed a stretch. I suppose it refers to DNA, which refers to the intertwined lives of the fathers and their children, but it’s still a thin premise for a title. Even changing it to Double Helix would at least create a visual pair – two boys, two fathers, twin siblings.

I rather loved the premise of two middle-aged men, each of them with a distinctive back-story; whose romantic narrative parallels that of two young men, also with different back-stories, and having just enough of an age gap (18 and 21) to make older adults nervous in this sex-phobic culture of ours. All four of the main players – James, his father Mark, his friend Dylan and Dylan’s father Steve – are interesting and well-drawn. It is not a world where being gay is a problem per se, but one in which being a gay man raising children alone is complicated.

Martin has added into this mix the issue of adoption, plus the realities of the foster care system. That would be more than enough, but on top of this we have sexual abuse, drug addiction, separated siblings, cheating spouses, and the awkwardness of having your parent as a teacher in your high school. That’s a lot of complication, and it seems to me to represent the trend in m/m romance requiring that the narrative premise be almost unbelievably complicated in order to satisfy the market’s demand for novelty.

It struck me in this book that the children (James, Dylan and Frances) are rather more rational and well-behaved than their middle-aged parents. In fact, given what the parents get up to, I feel that Mark and Steve (according to my experience as a gay adoptive father over the past 23 years) are surprisingly inappropriate in their behavior. Martin tries to work rationales for all this into her story, and does a credible job, but as far as I’m concerned, no father of high school children should be having sex in public bathrooms under any circumstances. This is porn fantasy, not reality (again, based on my personal experience). Then again, maybe the author wanted me to feel this way, making the reader see that the kids were more mature than the parents. On the other hand, the scenes that bothered me most were clearly intended to push the buttons required by m/m readers.

All this aside, there is a wealth of nice detail in this story – about the houses, the meals, the friendships, and the inner lives of the main players – including a secondary role for James’s twin sister Frances (Frankie). She and her brother are named for the couple who discovered DNA (which also forms the reference for the title). Frankie is a minor character, but she plays a critical role, which not only gives her character weight (the only important female role in the book), but also makes her the wise one who helps everybody else maintain their personal agency amidst all the emotional drama. Frankie also made me wonder what it must be like to be a twin, raised by a bisexual dad, with a gay brother. I wanted more of Frankie, because she seemed worth it.