This was another really good installment in the Bend or Break series. We first meet Rafi and Denny in book three where they have a side story. Fast forward two years later and the two friends are now at the same college together. Denny has already been a student but Rafi is transfering in on a rowing "diversity" scholarship. Denny is super excited and feeling like they will finally be able to move from friends to something more. For Rafi things aren't so clear cut. He cares deeply for Denny but he's so wrapped up in his own issues that he can't see what's right in front of him.
While this is partly a love story it is probably more a coming of age story. Rafi is struggling badly with his first year away at college. He's one of the few minority students at a predominately white, rich kid college. He's constantly worried about how others perceive him and he focuses on pushing himself to always be the best so that no one thinks he's getting a "free ride" due to his ethnicity. As a result Rafi isolates himself in many ways. He's stressed and he's exhausted both physically and emotionally and instead of relying on Denny to support him he repeatedly pushes him away.
I really enjoyed this story and I thought the author did a great job conveying some very serious topics in this story. Rafi's head was an exhausting place to be and while I wanted to shake him a few times I felt he was very realistically portrayed. Denny was great and everyone should have someone like Denny. As always with this author the writing was strong and the plot flowed seemlessly. Although this is the fourth book in the series this can be read as a standalone. If you have read the prior books you will see appearances from Tom/Reese and Cash/Stephanie. Another good read in a really great series.
When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as smooth sailing.
Rafael Castro is so far out of his element he can’t even see it anymore. Carlisle College in Massachusetts is a long way from his Chicago home, even farther from his Dominican Republic roots.
The only thing keeping him attached to his last nerve is the prospect of seeing Denny Winslow again. The first time they met, Denny taught Rafi to fly across the water, rowing hard in a knife-like boat. Now, two years later, on the wings of a rowing scholarship, Rafi is attending Denny’s elite college.
Even before the excitement wears off, Rafi is struggling with classes and fending off rumors that Denny’s family, not Rafi’s talent, won him his spot. To quash the gossip, Rafi tries to steer clear of the man he wants. A plan that evaporates in the fire of renewed attraction.
But Carlisle’s academic pressure cooker has Rafi barely treading water. And when a family crisis hits, both Rafi and Denny must pull hard to keep their relationship from capsizing in rough waters.
Warning: Contains a surly Dominican-American guy determined to show no weakness, a golden boy who knows his soft spots, some seriously dirty bachata dancing, and an excellent excuse for voyeurism in the locker room.