I’m like a moth to a flame for any sort of epistolary romance, add in a single parent to the mix and basically it’s almost like the book was written for me. And it was but also there was a lot of this book that made me unhappy.
Before we go any further, please note that this book has heavy themes of sick children, death, grieving, and PTSD. If any of these are triggering to you, this book is not for you. The book does not have any content warnings and I wouldn’t want a reader to be surprised by these things.
Ella and Beckett “meet” via letter. Her brother is in the military and thinks his BFF needs a pen pal. So they start corresponding. Beckett is introduced by his call name, Chaos. That is the only name Ella knows him by. The letters were the best part of this book. I love seeing characters fall in love with each other’s writing. I loved that Yarros gave us the letters out of order. Each chapter opens with a letter and she ties the letter from the past and the present together. This really worked for me.
In the early stages of their penpalship, Ella’s daughter is diagnosed with cancer. It’s tragic. Then shortly after that, Ella’s brother is killed. This isn’t a spoiler. Anyway the story flashes forward a few months and Beckett shows up on Ella’s doorstep, but Ella doesn’t know Beckett is Chaos.
This is where the story really begins.
Beckett is wracked with guilt about Ryan’s death. And honestly, if you’ve read a military Romance before, this is nothing new. Beckett lies by omission about who he is. I know this is a line some readers never cross but it’s doesn’t bother me. Anyway, Beckett is determined to be a support for Ella. They eventually fall in love and have to work through a lot of each other’s baggage. Ella trusts no man as they all leave. Beckett doesn’t believe he’s worthy of love.
If the book had stayed solely on this path, I could have really loved it. But it didn’t. It gave me a mixed bag of tragedies.
Enter Ella’s twin 6 year olds, Maisie, with cancer, and Colt, who has the emotional intelligence of a well-therapied 30 year old. The children alternated between cute and plot moppets. At times it bordered on sickeningly sweet.
There was a line, probably not even noticed by some, that was a bit jarring to mee, especially when you understand that it had ZERO relevance to the main story line and didn’t come up any other point in the story. At one point the hero is describing his commanding officer to the reader and this is what we got.
“I handed him the cup. I knew he liked his coffee like he liked his women, black and strong.”
I was definitely giving this author some serious side eye. Was this statement thrown in for shock value? Who knows, but at this point in the book, things started going downhill for me.
If you are at all interested in this book and want to enjoy it to its full potential, please do not read the spoiler.
In the beginning of the book Beckett mentions he doesn’t curse. So I did a search for some common curse words in the book. One popped up as being used once. I didn’t read the passage but caught some of the surrounding words. This is important and leads in to a big spoiler in the book.
Maisie is very, very sick. Her cancer is aggressive and when first diagnosed she has 10% chance of surviving. Ella spends a lot of time on Maisie being sick. It’s an extra plot point as Ella is basically going bankrupt in order to keep Maisie alive. A few conversations about how much is life worth were written in.
After I had stayed up too late one night reading and got to about 50% I had been feeling pretty good about the book and the story line. This is a romance after all. We are guaranteed a HEA, RIGHT?! RIGHT???
I was thinking about this book one morning and was thinking about Maisie and her cancer. I started to wonder if the author was going to give me a plot twist like My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. If you’re not familiar with that book, Picoult spends 80% of the book laying the groundwork for one sibling to die only to cure that one and kill the other sibling….
Readers, Yarros My Sister’s Keepered me. It was saccharine and sad and it made me angry. The scene with Colt and Beckett felt forced and moppety in the worst way. In summary, the dog finds Colt. He’s trapped under a rock. He’s not in pain. He’s bleeding out. Beckett is there too. Comforting him waiting for the helo. Beckett tells him he loves him and that he adopted him and that Beckett is his dad. Colt says he now knows what it’s like to have a father and he knows he’s dying but he’s so happy. Reader, I was very unhappy. I want to mention that this scene takes place at the 92% mark.
I was left feeling angry and questioning the convention of what it means to be a romance novel. The foundation of this genre are that there has to be a central love story (there was) and a happily ever after (there was). RWA doesn’t talk about if a child dying at the 90% mark, does this cancel out the HEA? Because it kind of felt like it did in a way. How can I feel good about their fight for each other while watching them bury a child. I know this is fiction and I always like realism in my romance, but this felt like too much. My heart hurt for this fictional family. My logical self knows how hard it is for marriages after the loss of a child. I could not fully believe in their HEA with that tragedy at that late in the book.
Ultimately I enjoyed parts of this story. I was incredibly invested in Ella and Beckett working through their crap and loving each other and believing their deserved that love. As I mentioned I loved the letters to each other. I didn’t love the wiser than their years moppet children. I could have done without some of the heavy handed life worth stuff. I think the intention was to be inspiring, although not an inspie, but I was left questioning the why’s and how’s of romance.
And the one pivotal scene near the end was too much for me. With that being said, this book will probably stick with me for a long time. Ultimately, the author did her job but I will not be giving the book a grade due to my very complicated feelings about it.