This book left me absolutely breathless and emotionally drained. Not for the obvious reasons either because it wasn’t a heart-pounding thriller. I didn’t cry, I didn’t scream or threaten to throw my kindle and I didn’t even dissolve into a puddle of goo. This one went well below my surface emotions to challenge me on a deeper level. Debut novel? Really? Not easy to believe once I read this. I feel like offering a warning label of sorts since I’m still shaking and affected. Let’s just say if you want simple, easy and relaxing, pick something else until you’re in the mood for something darker and more demanding.
You may ask what elicited such a strong response. I’m not sure. It might be just right book; right time. Somehow, I don’t think so.
Over and above how the story touched me, I will say that it’s a challenging read because it’s almost three stories in one. There is the current day story of Sera on the verge of her big decision to turn her back on her past and head into the future with Chase in Paris, then it flips to the past when Sera is a teen discovering love with Andrew and within the past is another story about Sera’s mother buried within that will all merge. There were breaks in the story, but sometimes there weren’t clear indicators when it was dipping back for a flashback so the reader must stay alert.
Sometimes I’m not a fan of stories told through flashbacks, but in this case, it was a relief at times to go back and forth. The heroine, Sera, can be a draining narrator. She feels so much and she is strong-willed and very flawed. Her egocentricity was transparent enough that I was prepared for the fact that I was getting a story from a skewed perspective. It seems that this behavior was an inherited trait from her mother whose story is told through her diary and another not so reliable narrator who sees what she wants to see. So it was a reprieve to flip back and forth- not that any of the stories were easy- and dive back in. The flashbacks also served to build up suspense and mystery because I was well aware that I was only getting part of the story and that there would be some big reveals in the end. As a proof of how much I enjoyed this story, I’ll admit that I figured out most of the twists, but still was as engaged as ever to read it to the last word.
The story opens in present day Sera’s life when the man she has been in a relationship with, Chase, is getting impatient with her to make a commitment to them and to live with him instead of engaging in a long-distance relationship where they only meet up every few months. Sera knows it has come to a point, but first she has some unfinished business. She has to go back home and deal with her past.
The story continues with a younger teenage Sera who slowly discovers that the boy she thought of as the bane of her existence and her chief tormentor was really looking for an opportunity to have a chance with her. Andrew is tall and gawky, but she soon realizes when she looks into his beautiful blue eyes that he’s special. He sees her- the real her- and he listens to her. He understands her as no one else does. They spend a summer exploring the local environs of their small town and exploring each other. They discover Rosethorn, the old crumbling Victorian mansion, and make it their own.
But then Sera finds her mother’s diary and becomes immersed in her mother’s story. Sera always wondered about her dead mother. She has lived with her Asian grandmother since she lost her mother when she was a baby. Her Grandmother won’t talk about her mother and Sera doesn’t want to cause her grandmother pain. In the diary she meets her mother and feels an instant connection. Her mother’s life was sad and tragic with dreams that would never be fulfilled. Sera starts to feel a disconnect for all around her even Andrew and then things go the course leaving her where she is now- on the brink of a new future with the past still gripping her.
The tone of this one has a melancholic feel because it is about someone who is unfinished even though they are an adult who has lived many life experiences. It is a story of someone who needed to find resolution before she could find peace. The best I can offer as a correlation is that it was like reading Wuthering Heights. The author did a fabulous job of getting me inside Sera’s head and feeling what she felt even as I recognized that my responses were different. Sera made some decisions that were saddening, but oddly I wasn’t upset with her because I knew she wasn’t in a healthy place. She missed a mother she never knew and tried to accept being abandoned by a father who never wanted her. She struggled to please ghosts and in so doing messed up her own life. Yes, I was very touched by this character. The bright spot in the story was Andrew. From the moment he enters the picture with his amateur and fumbling attempts to gain Sera’s attention, I found him the perfect boy next door cutie. Beneath the awkward attempts, he is coming of age and coming into his own losing some the cuteness and drawing in a more passionate response. He wants Sera in spite of her issues. That last scene with them in the past when they were at Rosethorn was tough to read- tragic.
Just one quick word of caution for those who might be sensitive, an abortion does take place off scene.
My final thoughts are that this was a superb piece of writing that I can wholeheartedly recommend to those who enjoy a more complex and bittersweet character-driven romance.