Series: Abroad Duology
Publisher: Brain Mill Press
Release Date (Print & Ebook): June 27th wide release; early access June 17th
Length (Print & Ebook): ~100K words; 372 pages
Subgenre: NA; LGBTQIA
All buy links or pre-order links:
Reviewed by Erin
ABROAD is a story of struggle, love, identity, fear, family, and friendship. It's about finding your people. It's a story of how our cultures can define, constrict, and, ultimately, free us. It's a story of immigration and its fallout, of confusion and clashes and how help can come from the most unexpected places. It's the story I have always wanted to tell, ever since I was a confused, frightened immigrant kid with no recourse but to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings or sink. In many ways, while fictionalized and quite altered, this is my story.
Nick Melnikov doesn’t know where he belongs. He was just a kid when his Russian-Jewish family immigrated to Michigan. Now he’s in London for university, overwhelmed by unexpected memories. Socially anxious, intensely private, and closeted, Nick doesn’t expect to fall in so quickly with a tight-knit group of students from his college, and it’s both exhilarating and scary. Hanging out with them is a roller coaster of serious awkward and incredible longing, especially when the most intimidating of the group, Dex, looks his way.
Dex Cartwell knows exactly who he is: a black queer guy who doesn’t give a toss what anybody thinks of him. He is absolutely, one-hundred-percent, totally in control of his life. Apart, maybe, from the stress of his family’s abrupt move to an affluent, largely white town. And worrying about his younger brother feeling increasingly isolated as a result. And the persistent broken heart he’s been nursing for a while . . .
When Nick and Dex meet, both find themselves intrigued. Countless late-night conversations only sharpen their attraction. But the last thing Nick wants is to face his deepest secret, and the last thing Dex needs is another heartache. Dex has had to fight too hard for his right to be where he is. Nick isn’t even sure where he’s from. So how can either of them tell where this is going?
Every reader has that one kind of story that really speaks to them; the one they read no matter what. For me, it's coming of age stories. There's just something about a person at the beginning of their journey to self-discovery that really resonates with me. When I saw the blurb for Liz Jacob's debut book, Abroad, I knew it was one I had to read. And boy was I right ... and what a spectacular debut this is! Moving, emotional, and so realistic, Abroad is one of those books that will stick with you long after you finish the last page. This story of Nick, Dex, Izzy, and the rest shows how finding that one place where you can be yourself is pretty much everything.
Nick Melnikov is a Jewish Russian immigrant from Michigan who has been given the chance to study in London. Away from home for the first time, he finds himself in a strange city with strange names for food and streets where people drive on the wrong side of the road and where he's completely overwhelmed. At a student mixer, he meets the irrepressible Izzy who immediately takes Nick under her wing and he's thrust into a group of people he's never imagined himself being friends with. Especially with Dex Cartwell. Dex is black, he's out, and he's gorgeous. Nick is immediately attracted to Dex, but has denied his sexuality for so long he doesn't even know how to begin to deal with his feelings and attraction for Dex. Nick is awkward and shy and he's so endearing that you want to just reach out and hug him and keep him close. But it's a beautiful thing to follow along as he learns more about himself and makes friends with this unlikely diverse group of people. People whom Nick couldn't ever envision not just hanging out with, but making a real connection with as well.
Dex might know who is he is...an out and proud gay guy who enjoys sex...but that doesn't mean his life is all sunshine and roses, either. He's still getting over a bad break-up from his ex and his little brother is struggling with feelings of isolation now that their family has moved to affluent, almost exclusively white neighborhood. Talking with his brother, Al, brings up a lot of buried feelings for Dex, so his attraction to introverted Nick throws him for a loop. His best friend, Izzy, is having her own identity crisis, and coupled with the demands of school, Dex isn't exactly in the ideal place either.
What Jacobs has done brilliantly with this slow burn, evocatively written story, is show how different people and experiences shape who we become. Nick comes from a country where people are literally killed for being homosexual so his fear of coming out is bone deep. He fears the rejection of his mother and sister, the only family he has left, and being around people like Izzy and Dex and Jonny who is transgender and Natali who is a lesbian is just not anything Nick has a frame of reference for, but the more time he spends with all of them, the more he begins to admit to himself that he is definitely gay and the more he accepts his sexuality. This isn't a quick or an easy thing. Watching these bright, vibrant, eclectic group of people live and be happy and love who they want is both exciting and anxiety inducing in equal measure. Nick craves what they have, but believes he can't have it ... and this includes Dex. Nick longs for acceptance, and watching this happen little by little was so heartwarming.
The relationship between Dex and Nick develops so slowly, but it never feels like it drags. Both are working through things, Nick especially, but there is no doubt of the genuine friendship and then later love for one another. Yes, they're incredibly sexually attracted to one another, but it's more, deeper than that.
The next moment, when Dex brought his thumb up to Nick's mouth and touched his lower lip, Nick felt his breath stutter back.
Dex's touch. The way his finger slid gently over Nick's lip and his eyes followed the movement, hot and sending shiver after shiver down Nick's back.
"Your mouth." His finger was gone and replaced by his lips. Nick surrendered to the feel of him. He felt it again, that cleaving in two—before and after. With each kiss, the after drew him deeper in. He hadn't ever felt like this before and he had never known he could.
His heart beat even harder when Dex placed his palm against it, over Nick's shirt. Nick's hands roamed, touch-hungry, over Dex's arms and sides and neck. their breath was hot and damp, electrifying.
It smelled like a kiss.
All. The. Feels!
The alternating points of view Jacobs gives we readers really helps us to understand where each boy is coming from, the thoughts and feelings that go into their interactions. I especially loved that we not only get to see Nick and Dex, but that Jacobs also gives us Izzy's point of view. That might seem jarring to some, but for me, I found it really worked. I loved being inside her head, knowing her inner struggles after her first sexual encounter with another girl. The feelings or rightness and fear and beauty the experience brought to the surface.
Abroad is a gorgeously crafted novel about finding acceptance, that place and the group of people who will help shape the person you grow into. I can't wait to see where else this journey takes us and this wonderfully diverse group of characters. Make sure you're along for the ride, it's going to be a beautiful thing.
You tackle tons of obstacles in Abroad: Race, immigration, culture, religion, and sexual orientation. What was the hardest subject matter for you?
This is a hard question to answer. There were varying degrees of difficulty, I think. Immigration and culture was hard on a personal level – I was mining my own experiences in a way I never had before. It was quite often painful, to be honest, but ultimately rewarding, I think.
Race was difficult because I had a responsibility to get it, if not right, then do it as best as I could. I am a white woman, and had to educate myself on many subjects (such as how race is perceived in the UK vs US.) So that responsibility was palpable to me.
I will say that, for all of that, it was a ton of fun to write these characters. Dex especially was a total joy to write.
Nick is all over. Immigrated to Michigan, now in London. Where are some places you’ve been and loved or where would you love to go?
Oh, man. Well, London is my favorite place in the whole world. Which, I think, comes across in the book. England in general felt a lot like home to me for reasons I have yet to figure out. I have a major case of wanderlust – I want to go absolutely everywhere. I want to go back to Italy (I was there as a penniless student, which had a charm all its own, but I want to go back as an adult who can afford to eat, as well!) I want to travel to France, I want to go through Eastern Europe, I want to go to Thailand, and to Iceland, and to Namibia, and to Morocco, and to climb Machu Picchu…you get the point. If I were independently wealthy, I would probably spend months at a time in different countries and regions.
Mainly, right now, I'd love to go back to England with my wife and travel to Cornwall and Wales and Scotland, because that's something I haven't had a chance to do yet.
Since this is a coming of age, let me ask you this; what was your hardest obstacle when you were Nick and Dex’s age?
Figuring out who I was. I had a lot of difficulties coming to terms with my sexuality, as well as trying to settle into who I was in terms of nationality, and what it meant. Was I Russian, was I more American, what was the difference? It was difficult for me to get a perspective on it, and it caused me a lot of anxiety and pain.
What do you hope your readers will take away from Abroad?
Ooof. I'm not sure, to be honest. I hope that it stays with them, but how is up to the reader, I suppose. My biggest hope, if I'm honest, is to shed some light on Russian immigration and dispel certain harmful stereotypes. I can only really speak for myself and my family, of course, and would not presume to speak for all Russian immigrants and refugees. But it was important to me to shed a humanizing light on stories that are often deeply steeped in stereotypes and are painful to witness.
Mostly, I just want people to enjoy it!
This is a debut novel for you. So, what’s next?
Well, Abroad: Book Two, of course, as there is more story left to tell. And after that, a lot of different stuff, I hope! I'm working on a queer historical at the moment, and planning a contemporary YA, among others. I feel like all my works in progress are completely all over the place, genre-wise, and that is basically how I like it! Can you tell I get bored easily? Write ALL the things!
No, Izzy wasn't drunk. She was happy. She'd needed this. She just felt...unbalanced. Not right. Something was niggling at her, but she couldn't catch it, not without a bigger net.
Maybe it had been that stupid fight with Dex.
Maybe it had been the talk with Nick about her course.
Maybe she was just overthinking everything, which never ended well, and anyway, she never dwelled on the bad shit. Why was she even doing it now?
Maybe that was why, when she was taking a quick rest against an empty bit of wall, catching her breath, and saw a girl appear in front of her and beckon her for a dance with a tilt of her chin, Izzy went.
"What's your name?" the girl shouted in her ear once they were bouncing up and down on the dance floor. Her breath was hot against Izzy's skin and smelled beery.
"Izzy! Like Isabel, but, like. Shorter?"
The girl laughed and pulled back enough to catch Izzy's eye. "I heard you the first time, love, just having a laugh."
It should have annoyed her, and maybe it would have, had a guy done it. But somehow, it only made Izzy laugh. Flush and laugh, but luckily, she was probably pink all over from the dancing alone, so at least it wouldn't be noticeable.
"What about you, then?" she shouted.
Izzy thought that if they hadn't been shouting, Ruby's voice would have been husky. It had that edge to it. She had that edge to her, anyway. She was shorter than Izzy, just enough to probably be of a height when Izzy wasn't wearing heels. With heels on, Izzy brushed the other side of six foot, which she loved more than most people, probably. She'd once cried on her mum's shoulder that she felt like an elephant compared to all the other girls (and, what was worse, boys) in her class, and her mum had petted her head, then said, "Isabel? Great Danes don't produce chihuahuas." It had been so absurd, it had actually comforted.
She liked the way she towered over Ruby, because it didn't feel as if she should be able to. Ruby was sort of tall and lanky but had a presence about her; she felt bigger than her build. She, too, had tattoos. Seriously, was this a queer lady thing? She'd have to ask Nat later, because Nat had also already started on an arm sleeve, but Izzy had thought it was more of a Nat thing, not a lesbian thing. Ruby's left arm was covered shoulder to midway through her forearm. Vines and sea monsters and things. It was cool. She had a lip piercing, an eyebrow piercing, and short black hair in a sort of chunky haircut where the fringe periodically fell over her darkly-lined eyes. In this light, it was impossible to tell what color they were, but regardless of anything, she was easily the coolest girl Izzy'd ever met.
Liz Jacobs came over with her family from Russia at the age of 11, as a Jewish refugee. All in all, her life has gotten steadily better since that moment. They settled in an ultra-liberal haven in the middle of New York State, which sort of helped her with the whole “grappling with her sexuality” business.
She has spent a lot of her time flitting from passion project to passion project, but writing remains her constant. She has flown planes, drawn, made jewelry, had an improbable internet encounter before it was cool, and successfully wooed the love of her life in a military-style campaign. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize for her essay on her family’s experience with immigration.
She currently lives with her wife in Massachusetts, splitting her time between her day job, writing, and watching a veritable boatload of British murder mysteries.
Enter to win a copy of this book gifted through Amazon
Contest will end July 8th