Most of All You by Mia Sheridan
Released: October 17, 2017
Reviewed by Mandi
This book pretty much gutted me – and I’m not one to use that term a lot. The author deceives you into thinking she is giving you a very broken hero, and a heroine who is going to help him find himself. Instead, you start to learn how absolutely vulnerable the heroine is, and this book is more her journey of rising out of the black pit of despair, and enjoying the sunsets and rainbows…and absolute true love.
Our heroine’s name is Ellie, but her stripper stage name is Crystal, if you happen to see that name in any of the quotes I include. She doesn’t tell Gabriel her real name until later in the book. When Ellie was young, her mother died and Ellie was left with her father, who didn’t even know she existed. Abused until she graduates high school, Ellie flees her father’s home and with no money, and turns to stripping. This slowly dries up her soul. She grits her teeth and lets the men do whatever they want to her, so she can pay rent and buy food, but she has become a robot of sorts. She has completely lost herself, and has buttoned up her past abuse and grief extremely tight.
Gabriel was kidnapped at the age of 9 and held for six years in a basement before killing his captor and escaping. We don’t get a lot of details about what he endured those six years, but you can assume abuse as well. His story is even more heartbreaking that his beloved parents died in a car accident, one year before he escaped. (my heart). Now as an adult, he can’t handle anyone touching him. He is an extremely talented sculptor, and makes pieces from the quarry his brother and himself own and run. Gabriel still lives in his hometown, and still gets stared at every time he goes out in public – and whispered about as being “that kid” who got kidnapped. He has become a bit of a recluse, living at home with his brother. When a grad student named Chloe contacts him and asks for an interview for her thesis paper that involves that long-term effect on kids who have been kidnapped, Gabriel decides to grant a rare interview. He also sees a picture of Chloe, and finds her attractive. He decides it’s time to learn to touch someone, so maybe he has a chance to flirt with Chloe when she comes out for the interview.
He heads to the local strip club, where he sees Ellie on stage and makes a bold proposition – he will pay her to innocently touch him. Like – just on the hand.
“The thing is, because of my history, which it sounds like you know a little bit about, I, uh, find it difficult to tolerate…closeness.” Two pink spots appeared on his cheekbones. Was he blushing? God, I didn’t even know men could blush. As if my opinion of him mattered somehow. Something small and warm moved through me, something I had little idea how to identify.
She is desperate for cash as her car has broken down and agrees. It doesn’t go well.
“I can teach you what I do when someone gets close to me. I remove myself completely, and it makes it bearable.” She bit her lip, her brow furrowing as if considering something. “I think I can teach you how to do that.”
My body stilled as I stared at her. Her words caused my heart to ache. Oh God. “That’s not what I want, though. I know how to remove myself. I know how to do that. I want to stay present. That’s what I need you to help me with. Staying.”
But when Ellie is horribly assaulted, and needs round the clock care, Gabriel is there with his home open to her. These two very broken people are forced into close proximity, and an endearing, rip-out-your-heart, love story unfolds.
There is so much that goes into this story. The way Ellie has been treated by men her entire life has shaped who she is today. It’s not good. They’ve used her and abused her and her spirit is broken. She has so much pain welled up inside – it’s completely heartbreaking. And throughout the book, she is still treated like shit. Not by Gabriel, but others. There is even a father figure to Gabriel who I really liked- and at one point Ellie asks him why he is being so nice to her, and his response is – because he trusts Gabriel. Nothing to do with Ellie. I just wanted to punch every man in the face.
How much can one person get beaten down (both figuratively and literally) and keep going? She doesn’t always treat Gabriel nicely – but her words are her only defense. Ellie is smart too – she knows Gabriel wants to fix her – and it’s that transition of her absolutely refusing anything from him, to falling in love with him and giving him everything, that is so well done in this story.
“Just coffee, that’s all I want.” Just to see you smile.
“That’s not all you want. You want to save me from my intolerable life of pain and misery.” She put a hand on her chest in overdone drama. “I’m not a project, and I don’t want your help.”
“I’m not here to fix you, Crystal. I just want—”
“What do you want?”
I let out a sigh, running my hand through my hair. “Just to talk. I like you.” God, could that sound any more lame? I wanted to grimace at my own feeble attempt to sway her.
She stared at me for a moment, something flickering behind her eyes that I wasn’t sure how to read. Whatever it was, she was fighting it. That cynical smirk curved her lips, but there was something shaky about it. “Don’t they all?” She stood straight, letting out a tired-sounding exhale. “That’s just sexual attraction, Gabe. You’ll get over it.”
Gabriel goes from the one who needs help with touch, to the one who every so slowly nurtures Ellie’s soul back to health. And I’m not saying Gabriel, a man, cures Ellie of her dark spirit. She takes time for herself and does that just fine on her own. But it’s Gabriel who gives her the push – and a foundation to love herself again.
“You can’t fix me, you know.”
She’d said something similar to me at the Platinum Pearl and I’d questioned my own motives. But looking at her now, I knew that had never been my intent. I wanted her to heal, and I hoped I could be a part of that. But no one could fix anyone else. We could only fix ourselves. “No, you’re right. I can’t fix you.” I can only love you. And I truly want to try.
Because Ellie comes to live with Gabriel injured, he is kind of forced (although 1000% willing) to touch her. He has to help feed her and dress her and after a while, the touching isn’t even a thing anymore.
There is so much depth to this story – that my rambling won’t do it justice. So I’m going to say – read this. Ellie is horribly assaulted outside the strip club and there a flashback of her being sexually abused as a teenager – so keep that in mind if that is a trigger for you.
I found this author’s voice to be outstanding. Her character development, the entire arc of the story, the darkness matched with all the hope. Maybe the final climatic scene was a little overly dramatic – but I’ll totally overlook it!!
I’m completely in love with this story.