Bend Toward the Sun by Jen Devon
August, 9, 2022, by St. Martin’s Griffin
Review by Melanie
Don’t let the phrase “A Novel” on the cover fool you. Lush, evocative, poignant, Bend Toward the Sun is one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished it. It also happens to be one of the most romantic books I’ve read in a long time, with a HEA so perfectly sweet and tender. This book will definitely show up in my top reads of 2022 list at the end of the year. Yes, it’s THAT good.
It’s a quiet charmer of a book, a slow burn romance full of yearning and pining and a great deal of internal angst. Set against the backdrop of a would-be Bed & Breakfast/vineyard/winery in Pennsylvania, the book focuses on Rowan and Harry and their long and winding, and sometimes painful journey to a happily-ever-after.
Rowan, newly armed with a Ph.D. in botany, is wary of human emotions. Well used to being abandoned or betrayed by the people she loves, she is very careful about who she lets in. She has exactly two friends and aside from Temperance and Frankie, she’d rather hang out with plants and animals. After all, as she says, plants don’t fuck you over like people do.
Obstetrician Harry, whose retired parents have recently sunk their savings into a vineyard, has come home from Los Angeles after unexpectedly losing a patient. Reeling from the loss and the subsequent breakdown of his marriage, he finds himself mired in grief, depression, and anxiety. Having grown up in the midst of a happy and boisterous family of 6 siblings, he’s never known loss or depression of this magnitude.
If Rowan is a hardened shell of a human due to the circumstances of her own life, unwilling to let anyone into her heart, then Harry is her counterpoint, all fragile feelings and completely vulnerable and open. It would be easy to say that this is a grumpy/sunshine romance but that wouldn’t be the most accurate description of this book.
One of the things that I loved most about this book is the fact that it spans a whole year. And when the dark moment comes, there’s still a good chunk of the book left, which is good because these two with their broken hearts and trust issues deserve way more than a quick fix.
It’s a romance that makes both the MCs and the readers work for it. For every hopeful and healing moment of joy, there is a painstaking step back, where you get the true scope of Rowan’s long-standing emotional issues and Harry’s fervent desire to acknowledge their true feelings.
It’s an angsty book and it took me some time to realize that I do enjoy angsty books when the angst is internal, like here. There are no outside forces at play, no third parties, it’s just two people who have a lot of emotional baggage to sort out.
The book also does a beautiful job of capturing the setting, nature playing a huge role in the story. I admit, I wasn’t sure I’d be that into a book that focused a lot on viticulture and botany but surprisingly, the book works really well. Part of that has to do with the side characters. The entire Brady family plus Temperance and Frankie make for some pretty compelling characters and by the end of the book, I was already envisioning at least 3 more books featuring some of these side characters. (I truly truly hope this is the first in a series because I love all of these characters and want more books in this world).
Ultimately, it’s a book about learning to love when nothing in your life has ever shown you how to do that. It’s about the bonds of family and friends and learning to open your heart and trust in your own feelings even when your past experiences have let you down, time and again.
The beauty of this book lies in the quiet moments, this isn’t a book for loud, grand gestures but more a book about feeling your feelings and learning to acknowledge them and ultimately share them. There’s a lot of fun, flirty banter but also a lot of deep conversations between two people, one of whom leads with his heart while the other has closed it off entirely. And it’s beautiful to witness when these two finally come together and find common ground.
Final Grade: A
Content Notes: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, past death of obstetrics patient, past infidelity, past emotional abuse, past parental neglect, past death of a grandparent, arachnophobia, past drug abuse by a secondary character, past car accident due to the secondary character being high, HIPAA violation