I picked this one up because I was in the mood for a contemporary romance (this has been happening a lot lately and I’m not mad about it) and one of my favorite romance bookstagrammers (whose recs have never led me wrong yet), @diaryofaclosetreader, had raved about it.
Kristen is helping her best friend plan her dream wedding, while also handling a long-distance relationship, running her own business, and keeping a major medical secret (she’s planned to have a necessary procedure that will make having children impossible). Josh is also supporting his best friend, who is about to get married, while just having moved to California from the Midwest after breaking up with his long-term girlfriend. When Kristen and Josh have their meet cute, and they realize they’re going to have to spend a lot of time together helping with their best friends’ wedding to each other, they start to realize how compatible they are. Like, super compatible. Josh’s many sisters helped prepare him for Kristen’s moods and hangry-ness and no-drama snark, while Kristen appreciates Josh’s sense of humor, ability to feed her, and the fact that her dog (Stuntman Mike) loves him. But Josh wants a huge family…and Kristen knows that’s the one thing she can’t give him.
Whoa, this was fantastic. While I don’t think there’s a romance that will out-strip my feelings about Red, White and Royal Blue (maybe ever), this came close. From the first page I was drawn into the chemistry between Kristen and Josh, their dialogue is phenomenal (and, again, I’ll remind you how much good dialogue matters to me) and their general manners with each other are so fun. Also, I really appreciate how both of them are fairly open with themselves about how they feel, recognizing potential pitfalls and emotional snare-ups (even if they don’t always handle them or communicate with each other about them quite as well). But the fact that they don’t lie to themselves is something I liked a lot. Along these lines, I loved the respect they showed each other throughout – there were points where things could have gone questionably (like with Kristen’s boyfriend being so far away to start) and it would have turned me off. But it was handled so well. And it gave a very real and realistic way for Kristen and Josh to be friends first, before anything else, which is one of my favorite romance tropes. And then past that, once the friends turned to more, the physical heat was both well written and fun to read, and the moving forwards was well-paced. There were very authentically written forwards and backwards steps, both for internal and external reasons, that rang true and made me feel deeply for both Kristen and Josh (so many freaking tears, both happy and sad) and had me totally and completely invested in them both.
The big, obvious, other thing to mention, other than the writing and the plot being really nicely done, is the focus on infertility. This is such a major, extremely under-talked-about, much more common than people think health issue for women (click here for more info). I cannot say enough how grateful I am to Jimenez for tackling this issue in a contemporary romance like this. (I’ve only ever seen it addressed in more intense, “high-brow” if you will, literary fiction and nonfiction, which really limits who will see it and definitely doesn’t fully represent its prevalence or do justice to its pervasiveness.) It’s so important for women to see themselves and the real issues they deal with in literature. And it’s just as important to give visibility to these issues for the rest of us, so that we can start recognizing them and talking about them more widely…because one of the biggest complications between Kristen and Josh is that Kristen is so afraid/ashamed to tell Josh about her procedure. Both of them go through a great deal of heartache because Kristen is convinced that without the ability to bear his child, she isn’t good enough for him. (This is absolutely confounded by the way Kristen’s mother treats her, of course, which is another aspect of this story that I enjoyed, as it really gave Kristen’s personality and actions quite a bit of depth, but that’s sort of besides the rest of the point I’m making.) Anyways, long story short, that so not true, SO not true, and it really hurt to read Kristen saying it to herself over and over. If this book helps just one woman feel more empowered to speak about her infertility and reproductive issues, and know that she deserves everything she wants in life regardless of those concerns, than I am even more here for this book.
[Side note here: I do not have children. I don’t want to. Personal choice. So I have never tried and therefore I don’t know my own fertility status. So take my review and the following thoughts with this grain of salt in mind. I have read reviews from women who do struggle with infertility that say the way this ended isn’t realistic for women with fertility issues and it ruined a good thing. I totally understand that. And I don’t necessarily disagree. But also worth noting is that Jimenez talks in the “afterward” about how she based the entire story on her friend’s situation, so it does happen this way for some women. And to that end, it’s important to remember that any book is one of a million different perspectives or ways a situation can play out. Just because this was one person’s experience, doesn’t invalidate any others. And I also want to say that the general message about Kristen learning to love herself and feel her own worth, separate from child-bearing ability, should still stand, because the “off” part of the ending happens after Kristen and Josh makes their promises and plans with Kristen’s infertility in mind. I feel like ignoring that is also detrimental. Anyways, these are my “not affected by this issue and therefore not really qualified to have a full opinion” two cents, for what it’s worth.]
There are a few other plot points that I didn’t really talk about at all yet. One major one came as a massive surprise to me (truly, it blind-sided me) and, to be honest, having no idea it was coming really made it hit harder, in a way that made the reading experience that much better (and by better, I mean extremely emotional). So, I’m not going to mention anything about it here, so you can enjoy the same experience. You’re welcome…sort of. [Again, I’ve seen mixed reviews on the plot device in question, and no doubt it sucks, but also, it’s a thing that happens…this I can speak from experience on – secondarily, but still. It’s harsh and awful, but sometimes life happens like that and criticizing it as a writing “trope” doesn’t change that reality, even if it’s hard to imagine/read.]
But really, I just have to say that this was one of the most wonderfully real, un-put-down-able, emotional roller coasters of a book that I have read in the past couple months. Kristen and Josh were such great characters, with natural-feeling lives and backgrounds, and super compelling as a couple. I was rooting for them from the beginning and loved the way their relationship developed and changed and dealt with all the obstacles it encountered. This book hit me in my feels in so many ways and I loved every second of it.
Just one quote here, but it was one that really spoke to me, especially since I was reading it right before the Holiday season:
“‘You know what the trick to dealing with family is? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. […] Marrying your best friend. […] You marry your best friend, and at family gatherings you deal with your shitty relatives together. You laugh about it and have each other’s backs. Share looks and text each other from across the room when everyone else is being an asshole. And nobody else really matters because you have your own universe. […] That’s what I want. I want someone to be my universe.’”