TITLE: Social Skills
AUTHOR: Sara Alva
BLURB: Music is the only form of communication Connor Owens controls. No matter how badly he wishes to fit in, friendly banter and casual conversations have never been his thing. College is yet another social universe he has no clue how to navigate—until he meets Jared, a football player with chestnut eyes and a cocky grin that holds the power to shatter his self-imposed prison.
Jared’s attention opens Connor up to a new realm of emotional and physical intimacy. But as Connor’s self-confidence grows, so does his fear that everything will fall apart. Because in this socially stratified world, how long can a relationship between an introverted violinist and a closeted football player really last?
REVIEW: The title is really apt in this sweet, gently-moving, coming-of-age story. Connor is a freshman in college and feeling the strain of being a painfully shy and socially awkward kind of guy. He needs some “social skills,” and fast. He longs for friends yet finds it difficult to connect with his fellow students, he’s tongue-tied and unsure. One thing Connor is sure of…he loves music. He can communicate through his violin and playing it soothes his inner conflicts. It’s not easy for him, overcoming the shyness, and he takes refuge in his music and studying for classes. The author does a good job at capturing this complicated character.
Connor requires patience from the reader. He is so given to self doubt and anxiety and seems lost in it. You just want him to get a grip, take a leap. We get a lot of his inner dialogue and are witness to every bit of his insecurity. It’s clear that he isn’t close to his parents, they don’t understand him; and his mother, especially, is overbearing. Could this be the root of his insecurities or is he really just a very sensitive soul? (Connor’s thirteen-year-old sister, Melissa, is well captured and a fun secondary character. She’s smart and bratty and ultimately comes through for her brother when he needs it most.)
It isn’t until Jared, hunky footballer and fellow student, enters the picture that Connor starts to break out of his shell. They share a class together and Connor agrees to tutor him. Jared is the polar opposite of Connor: a jock, extroverted and out-going, with lots of friends. But he too, is trying to figure out who he is and what he wants. He also “gets” Connor and is protective of him. What I like is that he’s not perfect — he gets frustrated with Connor’s insecurities and pushes him to face and articulate what he wants. It’s unfortunate that at times Jared can come across as a bit cavalier in his treatment of Connor. But, we have to remember that these guys are only eighteen years old and Jared is not a knight in white armor, he’s not perfect… he’s real.
I especially like all the classical music references. Connor is a talented violinist and these details add to his character and enrich the story. We see him immerse himself in his music, we see how it helps him cope:
“He took out his violin and set some sheet music on his miserably bent wire stand… Then, with only a deep breath to bolster him, he launched into the first thing he could think of—the solo from Scheherazade.
It was a haunting melody, wistful and yearning, yet with a touch of hopefulness to it at the same time. The room and the tension slipped away as he drew the bow across the strings, his fingers vibrating with emotion—a simple task given what kinship he felt with the piece. It was so easy in this space to express himself, to make perfectly clear who he was and what he wanted from life. If only it were possible to speak with these notes in the real world.”
This book is perfect for readers who like a gently paced romance where you get a full arc of character growth in a well-developed world. Connor and Jared make an incredible journey of self-discovery together. I have read one other book by Alva, a novella. “Social Skills” shows more depth, partly due to its length, but mainly in that it displays the author’s talent for portraying young characters in real situations. While I felt the story could have benefitted by some tightening in pacing, I did enjoy it and will definitely be checking out more of Alva’s work.
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