I have a confession to make. I started reading this book at least half a dozen times over the past two months, and every single time I could not get past its very first scene. I am a glutton for angst, I seek and devour stories that make me feel, that move me one way or another, thus leaving a small but memorable trace of themselves in me long after I finish reading them, but I do not enjoy scenarios that hit too close to home, the finality of which leaves me without any hope left, and where the pain I experience while reading those few pages adversely affects my experience of the entire book. I am a diehard fan of Colleen Hoover’s brand of storytelling, her endless imagination and irrefutable skill at penning little masterpieces of ‘mass destruction’ always leaving me speechless and in awe, but I simply could not connect with this story as well as I hoped, and even though I enjoyed it in the end, it did not keep me enthralled as her stories normally do because I failed to connect with the characters on too many levels. And yet, given the very subjective nature of my ‘objections’, I’d recommend this book in a heartbeat as I don’t doubt it for a moment that most readers will love this story with all their hearts.
“I’m so tired of having to give up the only things in life I want.”
The sum of all its heartbreaking puzzle pieces, this is a story like no other I have ever read. Auburn Reed is a young woman in her early twenties whose past six years of her life have slowly crushed her spirit, leaving her unsure of herself, vulnerable, and stuck to the choices she was forced to make. The helplessness of her situation, however, has not completely extinguished that tenacious spark in her that drives her to believe her future could be brighter one day. And it is her resolve to better her life that brings her to the door of an art studio in downtown Dallas with a “help wanted” sign in the window.
Owen Gentry is an artist, a loner, a young man who drowns his demons in the striking art he creates by drawing inspiration from other people’s life stories rather than confronting the reality of his own. But not even the weight of his own self-reproach could ever erase the selflessness of his heart, or his fiercely protective nature. Finding Auburn at his doorstep is something he always hoped for but never dared to believe could happen. We are told their story from two very different perspectives, aware from the very beginning that their perceptions of their fated encounter are nothing alike, but the connection they both feel from the moment they set eyes on one another is the same—visceral, irrefutable, unfaltering.
“I’ve never felt stronger than I feel when I’m with her. I’ve never felt like I had purpose like I feel when I’m with her.”
As they dare to explore the attraction between them, we slowly discover what their lives truly entail and why being together is perhaps something they were never meant to have. They selflessly give their hearts to one another, that love palpable in their every stolen touch, every lingering glance, every playful word, but some loves come at too high a price to bear, and Auburn and Owen’s love might have been ill-fated from the very start.
“I’ll take whatever you’re willing to give me. Because I know that if you walk out that door, then ten years from now . . . twenty years from now . . . we’ll wish we had listened to our hearts when we think back on tonight.”
“That’s what scares me. I’m afraid if I listen to my heart once, I’ll never figure out how to ignore it again.”
Colleen Hoover has created another unforgettable story exploring the human condition and, in this case, how much of themselves a person is willing to sacrifice for the ones they love. Her trademark sense of humour, her familiar literary techniques, the very recognisable tone of her characters, are all there to pull us in and leave us incapable of putting this story down, but I found myself unable to connect with Auburn and Owen as well as I needed to in order to become completely invested in their story. I felt we were offered only snippets of their colourful personalities, as well as of some of the secondary characters, but not enough to make me understand them in their entirety. There was an intensity to this story that was missing in my eyes, especially given its themes, many vital aspects that could have made me feel closer to the characters often only hinted at or brushed over too quickly. The confident straightforwardness with which this author always tells her tales did not fit the story, in my opinion, leaving me wishing for more emotion, more passion, more highs and lows that neither of these characters got to express, especially given the helplessness of the situations they both found themselves in.
A very touching tale of two people whose lives have been intertwined for longer than they realise and whose hearts are forced to battle what their every instinct tells them to feel, this is a story that will greatly please most readers, and even with my own inability to connect with some aspects of it, I have to admit that I could not put it down. There is a great balance to this story that leaves us filled with hope and bittersweet positivity, showing us that for every act of thievery that life inflicts upon us, there is a gift offered in its stead.
“She deserves better. So much better. She deserves me. If only she knew that.”
“There’s someone here who belongs to you.”
It takes me a few seconds to adjust to the middle-of-the-night phone call. I sit up in bed and rub my eyes. “Harrison?”
“You’re asleep?” He sounds shocked. “It’s not even one in the morning.”
I swing my legs to the side of the bed and press my palm to my forehead. “Been a rough week. Haven’t slept much.” I stand up and look for my jeans. “Why are you calling?”
There’s a pause and I hear a clatter come from his end of the line. “No! You can’t touch that! Sit down!”
I pull the phone away from my ear to salvage my eardrum. “Owen, you better get your ass over here. I close in fifteen minutes and she doesn’t take last call well.”
“What are you talking about? Who are you talking about?”
And then it hits me.
“Shit. I’ll be right there.”
Harrison hangs up without saying good-bye and and I’m pulling a T-shirt over my head as I make my way downstairs.
Why are you there, Auburn? And why are you there alone?
I make it to the front door and kick a few of the confessions that have piled in front of it out of the way. I average about ten most weekdays, but the downtown traffic triples the number on Saturdays. I usually throw them all in a pile until I’m ready to begin a new painting before I read them, but one of the confessions on the floor catches my eye. I notice it because it has my name on it, so I pick it up.
I met this really great guy three weeks ago. He taught me how to dance, reminded me of what it feels like to flirt, walked me home, made me smile, and then YOU’RE AN ASSHOLE, OWEN!
PS: Your initials are so stupid.
The confessions are supposed to be anonymous, Auburn. This isn’t anonymous. As much as I want to laugh, her confession also reminds me of how much I let her down and how I’m probably the last person she wants to see come rescue her from a bar.
I walk across the street anyway and open the door, immediately searching for her. Harrison notices me approaching and nods his head toward the restroom. “She’s hiding from you.”
I grip the back of my neck and look in the direction of the restrooms. “What’s she doing here?”
Harrison lifts his shoulders in a shrug. “Celebrating her birthday, I guess.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. Could I feel any more like shit? “It’s her birthday?” I begin making my way toward the bathroom. “Why didn’t you call me sooner?”
“She made me swear I wouldn’t.”
I knock on the restroom door but get no response. I slowly push it open and immediately see her feet protruding from the last stall.
I rush to where she is but stop just as fast when I see she isn’t passed out. In fact, she’s wide awake. She looks a little too comfortable for someone sprawled out in a bar bathroom. She’s resting her head against the wall of the stall, looking up at me.
I’m not surprised by the anger in her eyes. I probably wouldn’t want to speak to me right now, either. In fact, I’m not even going to make her speak to me. I’ll just take a seat right here on the floor with her.
She watches me as I walk into the stall and take a seat directly in front of her. I pull my knees up and wrap my arms around them and then lean my head back against the stall.
She doesn’t look away from me, she doesn’t speak, she doesn’t smile. She just inhales a slow breath and gives her head the slightest disappointed shake.
“You look like shit, Owen.”
I smile, because she doesn’t sound as drunk as I thought she might be. But she’s probably right. I haven’t looked in a mirror in over three days. That happens when I get caught up in my work. I haven’t shaved, so I more than likely have a good case of stubble going on.
She doesn’t look like shit, though, and I should probably say that out loud. She looks sad and a little bit drunk, but for a girl sprawled out on a bathroom floor, she looks pretty damn hot.
I know I should apologize to her for what I did. I know that’s the only thing that should be coming out of my mouth right now, but I’m scared if I apologize, then she’ll start asking questions, and I don’t want to have to tell her the truth. I would rather she be disappointed that I stood her up than know the truth about why I stood her up.
“Are you okay?”
She rolls her eyes and focuses on the ceiling and I can see her attempt to blink back her tears. She brings her hands up to her face and rubs them up and down in an attempt to sober herself up, or maybe because she’s frustrated that I’m here. Probably a little of both.
“I got stood up tonight.”
She continues to stare up at the ceiling. I’m not sure how to feel about this confession of hers, because my first reaction is jealousy and I know that isn’t fair. I just don’t like the thought of her being so upset over someone who isn’t me, when really it’s none of my business.
“You get stood up by a guy so you spend the rest of the night drinking in a bar? That doesn’t sound like you.”
Her chin immediately drops to her chest and she looks up at me through her lashes. “I didn’t get stood up by a guy, Owen. That’s very presumptuous of you. And for your information, I happen to like drinking. I just didn’t like your drink.”
I shouldn’t be focusing on that one word in her sentence, but…
“You got stood up by a girl?”
I have nothing against lesbians, but please don’t be one. That’s not how I envision this ending between us.
“Not by a girl, either,” she says. “I got stood up by a bitch. A big, mean, selfish bitch.”
Her words make me smile even though I don’t mean for them to. There’s nothing about her situation worth smiling over, but the way her nose crinkled up when she insulted whoever stood her up was really cute.
I straighten my legs out, placing them on the outsides of her legs. She looks as defeated as I feel.
What a pair we make.