I’m constantly searching for love stories with unconventional settings, for a book to make me escape into a world that I wouldn’t immediately associate with romance, and this book most definitely fit the bill from the start. Partly set within the walls of an adult correctional facility, this is the story of two people whose every encounter in life could be seen as nothing more than a matter of happenstance, but whose paths crossed when they needed each other the most, saving one another in turn, and ultimately proving that some loves are truly written in the stars. Capably written, emotionally engrossing and even electrifying at times, it is hard to believe that this is Ms Jackson’s first novel, as her confident writing style impressed me from the very first page, and I cannot wait to see where her talent takes us in the future.
We meet them as adults in their mid twenties, but Kat and Carter’s story began on a cold night on a lonely, dark street in the Bronx, when a scared eleven-year-old boy saved a terrified little girl from being ruthlessly killed. While for Kat, every recollection of that terrifying night has haunted her dreams ever since, trapping her mind in a relentless slideshow of events that changed her life forever and stole her innocence from her, for Carter, the little girl’s courage, determination, and the memory of her peach-flavoured scent has comforted him in his dreams for the following sixteen years. And even though their very different upbringings turned them into two very different people, the memory of one another, however blurred or faded by the passing of time, remained something they have always fiercely protected and drawn strength from.
“She hated her fear; she hated the root of it, and she knew she had to face it head-on—even though she was terrified of it.”
Tired of feeling paralysed by her fears, Katherine “Kat” Lane hides those fears behind a façade of assertiveness and confidence, not wanting to feel like a victim ever again. Determined to make a difference in the world and find her purpose in life, while also facing her fears head-on, she finds employment as an English literature teacher at a prison, teaching the very same type of men who instilled those fears in her in the first place. And it is here that she meets Wesley “Wes” Carter, an angry young man whose cantankerous and volatile personality, coupled with a plentiful list of minor crimes and misdemeanours on his record, have caused him to spend most of his life in and out of detention centres. But while everyone only sees him as a “menace to society”, Kat is inexplicably drawn to him from the first time they meet, seeing past his hostile walls and desperate to help him.
“She’d known him all of two days, spoken maybe a dozen words to him, mostly through gritted teeth, but still she knew, deep down, somewhere in her stomach, there was something about him, something more—something that set him apart from the other students in her class. Something that called to her in a way she could never explain.”
And while their worlds try to pull them as apart from each other as possible, they grow closer each day, Kat’s fiery and strong-minded disposition being the perfect ‘antidote’ to the rage that constantly simmers under Carter’s skin. She challenges him and brings out the best in him, her persistence making her the first person in his life willing to go out of her way to help him. She melts away the anger churning inside him, soothing the fragile little boy in him who just wanted to be loved and not always be thrown away by those who were meant to love him unconditionally.
“I’m happy to have anything you’re willing to give me at this point. Just sitting here with you would be enough.”
As their relationship slowly morphs into the most meaningful one of their lives, we watch them battling the past as well as the present for one another. The story of a man crippled by the tentacles of his own fears of rejection and abandonment, and of a woman who is willing to fight the world for the right to love him—I loved every moment of it, and even felt compelled to find out how their story continues in the follow-up novella. I particularly enjoyed experiencing the intensity with which the author paints their every intimate encounter, their every touch exploding into an almost euphoric flame of passion that overwhelms them, devastates them, makes them lose control of their senses, and leaves them, as well as the reader, breathless in its aftermath.
“Her touch and words grounded him, while her kisses made him fly.”
But as much as I loved the way these characters communicate with their bodies everything they are incapable of expressing otherwise, I didn’t always connect with them in other less passionate moments, often failing to be moved by their circumstances and natural reactions. I personally felt the characterisation of the lead players as well as of some of the secondary ones in the story was at times incomplete, even contradictory, and thus one step short of getting me completely invested in them. That did not, however, significantly diminish my overall enjoyment of this beautiful story. I love stories of meant-to-bes, of people being meant for one another and never feeling truly complete until they find each other, and this story fed the dreamer in me, while keeping me glued to the pages cover to cover. I cannot wait to see what Ms Jackson has in store for us next.
“You’re everything to me, Peaches. You always have been. Always.”