Beautiful, Emotional Tale Of Survival. This is a road trip tale, and thus you go in expecting both some bumps and some growth, but *how* Drake manages to execute on both is quite remarkable. Drawing on the entire American soldier experience from the Forgotten War in Korea to the modern War on Terror in Afghanistan – America’s longest war – and also incorporating the realities of being poor in America, this is one of those fiction tales that may in fact hit a little too close to home for many – but read it anyway. The one group of people that I may say stay away from this book, perhaps, is those who struggle with cutting, as it is in fact a significant part of this story and is shown extensively enough to be uncomfortable – and yet still all too real – for anyone. Beyond that though, the grit, realism, and ultimately hope shown here are quite cathartic even to those who have never been in these exact scenarios, and there are several points late in the book where you’ll swear whatever environment you’re in while reading them has become quite dusty indeed. Truly an excellent tale, well told, and with particular care to all of the subjects it brings forth. Very much recommended.
Gen Z Mental Health Dang Near Erotica… Romantic Comedy? Up front, there was nothing technically wrong about this story – hence the five stars here. There is nothing for me to hang a star deduction on as objectively wrong here, and indeed there are several things to actively like. Such as the interracial romance in the South, where neither character tries to bring in bygone eras that were dead long before either of them were alive. As a Xennial / elder Millenial Southerner, this was genuinely refreshing to see in novel form, since so many try to depict the South as some racial tension hotbed that isn’t actually present in reality. Or at least that’s not what the *entire* South is, nor any that I’ve ever experienced in a lifetime of living here. So for fellow Southerners tired of so many novels looking down on us and trying to force depictions of us that aren’t always accurate… give this one a try, I think you’ll like it. 🙂
Now, onto the stuff that those same fellow Southerners might actually have more of an issue with.
For one, if you don’t like hot and heavy, dang near erotica level sex in a book… this one isn’t for you, no matter where you’re from. If you prefer “sweet” / “clean” romances where the couple barely kisses or where anything beyond maybe heavy kissing is “behind closed doors”… this book isn’t going to be something you enjoy. There are two sex acts performed essentially in public – one in a car in a parking lot, the other inside the Mayor’s Mansion during a town festival (and on a couch in a room, rather than in some closet!). Along these lines, there was much talk of condoms and STI testing (at least at first), and again, these are some issues that I know some will LOVE being included but others will wish had not been, so either way you now know to expect them and can proceed according to your own attitudes on the subject. 🙂
For another, and this is absolutely one where your mileage may vary depending on any number of factors, there is a LOT of talk about mental health here, to the level of being fairly preachy at times – particularly in espousing a more Gen Z view of the field. Both of our leads suffer from anxiety, and at times it feels the focus of the book is on these issues rather than anything remotely romantic or even comedic. While it is absolutely refreshing to see these issues discussed so openly, and I absolutely love that a book featuring this is on the market, I also realize that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. So hey, better to skip the book because I warned you than to read it and leave a 1 star review complaining about all the “pansy ass whiny bullcrap” or some such that I know several people personally would absolutely complain about. 🙂
In the end though, this *was* a mostly fun, relatively light (particularly given its subject matter) romantic comedy, and it *does* work within that genre, just far from your typical entry there. As someone who constantly seeks new wrinkles I hadn’t seen before, I enjoyed it from that side in particular. Very much recommended.
Remarkable Examination of Trauma And Its Permanence. This is a truly eye opening book about the remarkable resilience of many, perhaps most, people – and how the science of trauma often gets the permanence of trauma wrong. Bonanno has spent his career researching these topics, and this is a solid look at his best findings to date. Told using some long-term case studies as a bit of a narrative structure (and certainly a recurrent theme), this book does a great job of showing how intensely personal trauma and resilience are, yet also using facts and studies to back up the case studies and show larger findings and trends. The bibliography here comes in at about 23% of the total text, which is within normal range – and would likely have been a bit more, without the focus on the case studies. Of note, the case studies are from an accidental spine injury – from a traffic accident – and from survivors of the 9/11 attacks, which helps to show the wide range of trauma. Though also of note, sexual traumas are not examined directly. While Bonanno makes the case for general applicability to all traumas for his findings of resilience and the factors that lead to it, one wonders whether more directly studying various types of traumas using Bonanno’s framework would truly show true general applicability? Still, that question would be an intriguing premise for a follow up book – but this book itself does in fact make a strong case for its premise and adds quite a bit to the overall discussion of trauma, PTSD, and resilience. Very much recommended.
Satisfying (Seeming?) Conclusion. After Bratt rushed things a bit with Book 2 of this series (No Place Too Far), combining elements that I felt – and mentioned both to the author and in the review – could better be done in multiple books, here she takes the same approach. Yet here, the story is more condensed generally, taking place over just a week or so and having two concurrent storylines that work quite a bit better as a pairing. In one, Jules, the true matriarch of this series, has a medical issue that sidelines her yet gives her a compelling storyline. In the other, and happening concurrently, her youngest daughter has gone missing – and Jonah, the PTSD-suffering Iraq veteran who decades earlier already lost one sister (see Book 1 – True To Me) has to find her.
As with much of this series, it is loosely based on Bratt’s own daughter’s adventures living in Hawaii – the author’s note at the end actually notes a much more perilous event that made the news there in the last few years as the inspiration for the missing daughter piece.
And as with Bratt’s immediately prior book to this series, Dancing With The Sun, this book is essentially a love song to one of her own daughters, and another cry of just how strong her love for that daughter is.
Bratt’s writing, at least in the time I’ve known it, has always been about putting her real world heart on her sleeve and then pouring it into “paper”, while creating worlds that allows her to explore and convey the emotions she is feeling at any moment. It makes her personally vulnerable – but also makes for some of the most compelling reading of the last few years. This story is ultimately no different here. Read it because it is truly an excellent book, one where she took the (light) criticism from its predecessor and largely corrected. Knowing a bit of the backstory – and I haven’t noted anything here beyond that which she has said (IIRC, in much more detail) publicly – only makes it that much richer.
Very much recommended.