Ethan West has just broken up with his boyfriend, but his long-dreamt of year studying abroad in Germany is about to begin, and he’s ready for a fresh start. He’s not looking for any new attachments, but starts to change his mind as he gets to know his new roommates, especially Daniel. Though the two don’t get along at first, they gradually grow closer until Ethan begins to question whether Daniel is actually straight after all.
The plot description makes The Race for Second sound like a cliche M/M romance, but it’s more of a coming of age travelogue. Ethan and the cast are realistic, flawed characters navigating cultural differences and the precipice of adulthood, and sometimes that makes them difficult to like, but never difficult to believe. Germany itself plays a significant role in the narrative, and Ethan’s struggle to integrate into a foreign culture adds an extra dimension to his experiences.
I can’t say that this is a particularly happy book, but I found it to be comforting in a way. Coming of age stories often depict maturation as the process of simply becoming an adult, as if there was a fixed goal which, once achieved, marks the end of your journey. But of course that isn’t true in the real world, there is no such thing as a ‘finished’ person, and life is full of new experiences from which we all continue to learn and grow, regardless of our age. Or something like that. For me, The Race for Second was a reminder that it’s important to be resilient, because life is full of many experiences, and the end of one only signals the beginning of another.