Arctic Wild is about second chances, new adventures, and the dynamics of caring for each other. We meet imperfect people where their lives unravel, and watch them unfold beautifully into who they really are. The story honours learning to accept help and asking for what you need –physically, emotionally, and sexually. It's more about that journey than it ever is about the plane crash or being stranded together.
While I found Arctic Sun gripping from the very start, Arctic Wild took its time to lure me in. Things get pretty intense when Toby loses control of their seaplane, and just when it feels like maybe the whole book is gonna be about emergency survival techniques, their romance begins to take centre stage. Toby, Reuben and Amelia (Reuben’s incredible teenage daughter) end up living together for the summer, finding themselves very much like family before Toby and Reuben even realize they’re in love. It’s wonderfully cozy: Toby teaches Amelia to cook, and to use his mom’s old sewing machine. They prepare meals as a family, and the couple Netflix-and-cuddle every night.
Toby and Reuben’s decision to stay together for the summer seems sudden, but it feels completely right. Things work well when they’re together, and life feels better with each other around. They lean on each other throughout --allowing their unlikely bond and new-found friendship to develop into the fire of a romance that’s achingly sweet and filled with tenderness. Also, great sex! With no-problem accommodations for Toby’s injuries, and alottttt of edging! Being with a man isn’t problematic for them (both men are already out as bisexual), but their difference in age and financial status is something that Toby’s family quite openly has issues with.
Being in Alaska gives Amelia —a gamer who loves makeup and hates the kids at school—the space and confidence to bloom. She encourages her father to follow his heart with Toby, and her iconic teenage interruptions of their charming moments made me laugh so much! Seeing her flourish is my favourite part of this story. I also love the way disability is depicted in Arctic Wild. There’s a scene with Toby struggling to open a can that literally happens to me once a week. It’s frustrating and overwhelming, and it means the world to see it on-page. There’s also an awareness of accessibility considered in their everyday plans. Accommodating for Toby’s limitations or comfort is never seen as an inconvenience; it’s simply a part of their lives. Disability isn’t looked down upon. Reuben very clearly states that he’s attracted to Toby whether his injuries are permanent or not. Even Toby’s frustration at his healing process taking longer than he’d like is really only rooted in his fear of the financial stress from not working.
It was disappointing how little of Griff and River (from Arctic Sun) we see in this story. There’s like, three sentences about them. But! Any lingering sadness is erased by Toby & Reuben’s Extremely Charming, Incredibly Cozy epilogue ©
Content Warnings: near-death experience, plane crash, burden of care for a disabled parent, health insurance bureaucracy struggles, brief mention of flashbacks, grief, parental death in the past, mild BDSM
Andrea received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.