Wheels of Steel 1-3 by Pepper Pace
Heat Level: Torrid
Multicultural: Black Woman, White Man
This author is one of several I discovered on Literotica, and like many of them, she’s a very talented storyteller, but she drives me batshit crazy and here’s why. She needs an editor, BADLY. Not just for typos, which are legion, but she desperately needs someone to go back and cut the living hell out of this series. At nearly 250k, it’s too damned long. There are actually three books, and you have to read all three to get the whole story. The first book is significantly better than the other two. In addition to the issues mentioned, there’s head-hopping galore, and I lost count of the POVs. In my opinion, given the age of the characters and the fact that many of their struggles are parent related, I think Pace should’ve cut out the erotic aspect and made this a YA book. Despite all these flaws and many more, I.Couldn’t.Put.It.Down. Pace has created some of the most interesting characters I’ve read in a long time.
I bought this book because someone (Ridley?) mentioned on another blog that they’d never read a romance featuring a handicapped person that didn’t read like an After School Special. Even worse, most of them have a miraculous cure at the end. I realized that I hadn’t either, and given the number of years I’ve been reading the genre, that’s a shame. In this story, the hero does get better, but it’s at great risk to his health, and it’s certainly no miracle cure. I also like books that feature music, and in this one I learned probably far too much about making hip hop mixes.
This story details the rather convoluted romance between Jason, a 19-year- old college student/DJ who has cerebral palsy. Robin who is 21 starts out as his aide and eventually becomes his girlfriend. Jason has seizures and sometimes chokes when he eats. In addition he occasionally needs assistance with toileting. Despite this, he is an absolutely awesome hero. Jason is loving and protective, and very frustrated with the limits his disorder places on his body. You can all but feel his passion, both for Robin, and for music, leaping off the page. He’s strong and resourceful and uses his ingenuity to protect Robin. Believe it or not, Robin, the heroine is far more messed up in the head than Jason is, though neither would win any medals in that regard. They both have overbearing mothers, and Robin is struggling with some residual grief/guilt from the death of her father. She is almost pathologically shy, suffers from anxiety and recurrent episodes of IBS. Yes, both the cerebral palsy and her gastrointestinal difficulties are discussed in fairly graphic detail.
Robin’s father recently died, and she’s decided not to go to college because she struggles with her shyness and seems to have some type of learning disability. Because of this, her mother threatens to take back the car she received for high school graduation. Desperately wanting to keep the car she gets a job at a fast food restaurant so she can pay the note herself, then takes on a second job as a home health aide when she was still coming up short financially. After a couple of miscues with the home health agency she is hired to assist Jason who initially is an absolute jerk. Gradually she is pulled into his entire life, including his friends who are members, of his band, Wheels of Steel.
The band consists of three other characters, Peter, who is also wheelchair bound, Amberly, who also has cerebral palsy, but can walk, and Belinda, who, as far as I can tell doesn’t have any disabilities, though she certainly has issues. All these characters have stories of their own, especially Amberly, who is in love with Jason. Robin has a hard time even making eye contact with others, and has never really made any friends before, so it takes her while to warm up to all these new experiences. She is an incredibly giving person, and it’s easy to see why Jason falls so passionately in love with her.
Jason has moved out into his own apartment to get away from his overbearing mother. He was once able to walk, but lost that ability due an aide neglecting him when he was a child. He can take medication that will help him, but it’s dangerous and his mother refuses to give him the money for the treatment. Pace does an excellent job showing us the two of them falling in love, and the forces that threaten to pull them apart. The only sour note in their relationship to me is what I see as Robin’s overreaction to a mistake Jason makes at the end of the story. But I am incredibly biased because I’m half in love with the guy myself, so you can take that with a grain of salt. So here is my quandary; how can I recommend what is by all measures a poorly written book? The only thing I can say is, if you can get past all the issues I mentioned that the beginning of this review, you will definitely enjoy this story.
Pepper Pace is one of the Young Turks in the multicultural niche. She deliberately chooses unconventional characters, and it usually works. In one of my favorites the hero is a homeless man who is mentally ill. The younger writers seem to come at the genre from a different angle. For one thing I think many of them are fans are soap operas, as their stories have a great deal of drama in them. This type of storytelling is probably very popular with a generation that was raised on reality TV and the likes of Jerry Springer. It’s a different outlook, but I think I like it. Certainly it makes for great story-telling.
You can buy Wheels of Steel 1 here. (I’m too lazy to link all three.)