Every Mia Sheridan novel I have ever read has left a small part of itself deeply impressed onto my heart, the memory of each story leaving a permanent footprint of the bouquet of emotions it stirred in me. With an uncanny talent for making readers feel so much no matter what scenario she gifts us with, I have learned to submit my mind wholeheartedly to this author’s extraordinary prose, expecting it to affect me and pierce through my composure effortlessly and without fail. But even knowing all that, nothing could have prepared me for the devastating effect that this book would have on me and my poor heart. This is a story I cannot and never want to forget. It is one of the most beautiful tales of selfless love and resilience of the human spirit I have ever come across, and it is a book I’d urge anyone to read as soon as possible.
“You had to appreciate the small things in life when the big things made you want to curl up in a corner in the fetal position and give up.”
In a small town in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, enfolded by nature’s breathtaking beauty and its perfect landscapes, lies a community marred by poverty and misfortune, a community wanting for everything—from food to warm clothing, from education to basic health care—and yet, this community survives, one way or another, their shared social condition reminding them each day that there is always someone who is worse off than they are, and that even a little bit of kindness goes a long way. And it is in the heart of these mountains that we find a young woman who dreams of seeing the ocean, of owning more than one pair of shoes, of living in a house with her own bed in it, of becoming a teacher and inspire others to love books as much as she does. And a young man who dreams of becoming an engineer, of never going to bed hungry, of doing something in his life that would make a difference.
“All my life I was a nothing, a nobody. My life was small and worthless. And it hurt so badly.”
Tenleigh and Kyland grew up dirt poor and both desperately determined to escape the lives they were born into, their only beacon of hope being a college scholarship that could change their futures. But while Tenleigh dreams of not only improving her own life, but also of those closest to her, Kyland’s tragic reality is very different to hers. Having lost everything he holds dear, he plans on leaving everything behind, all the pain, all the memories, all the despair, and on never looking back, at anything or anyone, especially a green-eyed girl whose smile makes him want to be a better person.
“A beautiful girl with a spirit so bright I wanted to squint when I looked at her was not going to derail me now.”
But they fall for one another, completely and irreversibly, and even though they both know their love would be short-lived and doomed from the beginning, they cannot help but seize the only happiness that life has ever granted them, losing themselves in each other, and for once, daring to want something just for themselves.
“…it was so hard not to dream that somewhere out there, there was someone strong and gallant who would dance with me under a starlit sky and call me his beloved—and mean it.”
When the time comes to make a choice, the love they both feel for one another is so overwhelming and pure, that a choice becomes not a choice at all, and their love manifests itself in the most heartbreakingly spectacular way there is—with a selfless sacrifice—because when you have nothing in life, the greatest thing you can give to a loved one is the future they would never otherwise have.
“Tenleigh, don’t love me. Please don’t love me. I can’t stay here. Don’t love me.”
I cannot tell you how deeply this story has touched me and how much it still hurts even just recalling some aspects of it. This is a book that drowns you in its heartache as much as it blinds you with it beauty. The inner strength and the dynamic nature of these characters is what drives this story forward, the ‘glue’ that holds a story like this together, and we can’t help but fall swiftly in love with them from the get-go and travel this journey with them willingly and wholeheartedly. Nothing in this story is rushed, or skimmed over, every aspect of the bond that slowly forms between Tenleigh and Kyland is given equal care, giving readers, in turn, the opportunity to get to know them, understand them, feel a myriad of emotions for them, the early scenes of them oh-so reluctantly falling for one another being as vital to our connection with them as are some of the later more dramatic ones.
Framed by a juxtaposition of nature’s beauty and human tragedy, we are given an unexpected story of a selfless and never-ending love, a story designed to churn emotions in us and make us ponder on our own lives. I swooned, I cringed, I smiled through my tears and I bowed from the pain, and every word of this extraordinary tale is sheer magic.
“Half agony, half hope. Half pain, half ecstasy. Half grief, half joy. Half my downfall, half my savior.”