Everything about The Boys and the Bees
is understated, very much like the main character, Mark. On its surface, the story is a simple romance about an Iowa farm boy who finds romance with another man who has little in common with him. Dig a little deeper and you find a story about self-discovery and inner strength.
Mark is a solid, dependable family-oriented man who has never really experienced true passion. He managed to bury his own personality, wants, and needs in order to be the son/brother his family and community needs him to be. He mediates family conflicts, trudges along in a job he hates as a mid-level manager, and maintains the level of responsiblity and respectability expected of him. His parents are deeply religious, and their conservative views are fairly inflexible and color many family interactions. Although he's had relationships, they've been ho hum, and he's currently alone and (deep down) lonely. He protects and works to please everyone but himself, without complaint.
Until one day, he meets Jamie, an avid environmentalist and political activist he once went to school with. The initial spark quickly turns into a slow ember, and Mark just doesn't want to stay away. In some ways, Mark is surprisingly strong. He likes Jamie, and he doesn't really try to hide that (except from his rigid family), even though Mark previously identified as 'straight'. He continues to make everyone but himself happy, a fact that drives Jamie crazy.
Unfortunately, Mark's family isn't as concerned with pleasing him. When they find out he is gay, Mark struggles to maintain his relationship with him. Through this, and his relationship with Jamie, he learns how to stand up for himself and when to think of himself first.
Given the slow, stolid tone of the story, it took a while to get into. As Mark himself seeks to avoid tension and conflict, this theme transfers onto the story itself. I became much more invested at ~60%, when the buried conflict came to a head. Still, the writing was strong, and the story enjoyable, particularly if you're looking for a steady, realistic, but sweet read. I will definitely be looking forward to reading more from this (new?) author. 3.8 stars.