This is the second book I’ve read by Hoover. When I saw the description for this book I felt compelled to read it. I enjoy stories centered around a mother and daughter trying to figure things out. Add in some tragedy and I’m all for it. I have never really been drawn to Hoover’s books but I thought maybe this will be the that helps me understand her appeal to so many.
Reader, this was not the one. This review will be spoilery so be forewarned. A big chunk of this review will be under a spoiler tag.
Before I get to the spoilery parts, I want to know why Hoover seems to isolate her heroines. Is it just in the two books (All Your Perfects and Regretting You) that I have read that the main heroine doesn’t have any friends? Does anyone care that this heroine doesn’t have another female character to even talk to in order to try to pass the Bechdel? Does it help build the angst? My theory is that this is a common theme for her stories and it helps the heroine stay stuck in their own bullshit for far too long.
Morgan is the adult heroine of this book. When the book opens up Morgan is 17 and with her boyfriend Chris, his best friend Jonah, and her sister Jenny. Morgan is feeling empty in her relationship with Chris. But seems to have a connection with Jonah. He hates watermelon jolly ranchers so he gives them to her, they are her favorite. But then she discovers she is pregnant. We flash forward to the now. It’s Morgan’s birthday. She is happily married to Chris. Morgan and Chris have a daughter named Clara. Jonah recently rejoined their circle of friends. Jenny and Jonah have a baby together, the result of a recent one night stand. Jonah has just moved back to town to be a co-parent with Jenny and she even mentions they may get married. After chapter finishing chapter 1, I did a search for Jonah’s name to see how involved he would be in the rest of the story, the results gave me over 600 instances. I was intrigued to see where/how that connection would continue.
Clara is 16 and suffering from typical teenage drama. There is a boy named Miller who maybe likes her but maybe he doesn’t. There is a lot of back and forth between them. At his core, Miller is a good young man, but I don’t read YA books and seeing them occupy so much of the page in this book was a lot for me to handle. One of the plot points is that Clara “loses her virginity” and nothing gets me fired up quite like that phrase. Virginity is a construct and can we stop with the notion that it is something tangible to be lost or given?
Back to the grown-ups. The day after Morgan’s birthday tragedy strikes the family. This is mentioned in the blurb copy.
Chris and Jenny both die as a result of a car wreck. The specifics of what happened in the car wreck are never given. This is probably only important to someone like me who lost someone as a result of a car wreck. I do want to applaud Hoover for using the term wreck instead of accident. After their wreck it is revealed that Chris and Jenny were having an affair for an undetermined amount of time. It was incredibly predictable. There were a few other twists related to this plot point that were also predictable and had me rolling my eyes. Also it is never said what caused the wreck. This felt unfinished.
Morgan, Clara, and Jonah are all navigating their grief and trying to adjust to live without their loved ones. And trying to reconcile that Chris and Jenny were having an affair. It is never mentioned with certainty but it read as if it had been a long term affair. Like multiple years. So not only is Morgan dealing with the loss of her husband and sister but also learning of their betrayal. It was A LOT for me as the reader and led to some eye roll moments.
Morgan and Jonah spend some time together sort of bonding over the loss. Jonah’s son is still an infant and Morgan helps care for him at times. They somehow realize they both still have feelings for each other. Which I found to be ridiculous and superficial. The way we know that they still love each other is because he gave her a bag of watermelon Jolly Ranchers for her birthday. And then months later he tells her that he doesn’t hate them it’s just that he knows that she LOVES them so he gives them to her. Which honestly is kind of sweet but other than this and some glances and reminiscing, there isn’t much to their relationship. Some of my notes to myself about this book:
“How do Morgan and Jonah know each other as adults?”
“How will their relationship being sustainable without having rediscovered who they are as adults?”
I wasn’t able to find those answers in the book and therefore I can’t believe in them having a long term HEA. They barely had a meaningful conversation prior to them having sex and declaring their love for each other.
After the tragedy Morgan and Clara struggle a lot. There aren’t enough conversations being had. We all grieve differently. I can attest to this. And it is hard. But Morgan not communicating in any meaningful way with her daughter was annoying. Clara rebels a little and it seemed age and grief appropriate. Before the tragedy Morgan was feeling lost and like she had lost herself a little. This comes up a little after the tragedy but even after some things are resolved it just kind of goes away. Once she is in love again it’s almost as if she doesn’t need to build a life that is hers. This is not the kind of storytelling I enjoy.
The story was compelling enough for me to finish it. But not without some borderline ragey DMs to friends. Hoover seems to have found her niche writing emotionally manipulative stories and found a large audience that enjoys that. The book centered on the angst and to me it didn’t feel like growth for the adult characters in the book. I just double checked and ‘Zon has this tagged as “romantic fiction” and “women’s fiction” so perhaps I am holding it to a standard that I shouldn’t. But even at not a true romance, the romance in this story was based on the author telling and not showing me enough to believe that this characters could be in a long term healthy relationship.