I’ve been waiting all my life for this book. It might sound like a melodramatic overstatement born of the heat of the moment, but when you stumble upon a story that is so flawlessly written, so perfectly suited to everything you always hope to find, so emotionally fulfilling that nothing else even touches you while you’re absorbed in it, you know you’ve found that book. A superbly conceived and then meticulously woven together second chance romance, J.M. Darhower holds no punches while delivering a heartfelt chronicle of love and heartbreak, of two young people torn apart by the changing tides of life, only to find their way back to one another when the time is right. I loved this book so completely and so overwhelmingly cover to cover, that I am not quite sure how to move on from such a tremendous reading experience. It ruined me in the best possible way, and I cannot recommend it highly enough—every devastatingly perfect second of it.
“I know I was never enough for you, Jonathan, but I hope you find something that is.”
Kennedy Garfield and Jonathan Cunningham met in their last year of high school, their young, rosy love running wild and free from the moment they first laid eyes on one another, and eventually ushering them into adulthood. But when the harsh realities of life began to unravel their innocence and slowly mould that love into something they could no longer recognise or depend on, what was once a fairytale became nothing more than an ugly nightmare. Six years later, we find Kennedy back in their little hometown in upstate New York, stuck in a dead-end job that pays the bills and puts food on the table, but also serves as a constant reminder of all she’s had to give up for someone else’s dreams. The only bright light in her life is her five-year-old daughter—a sweet, headstrong little girl she’d do anything to protect from harm, even if it means never telling her who her father is.
“Does she …?”
“No. She doesn’t know you’re her father. She, uh… she thinks heroes are real, no matter how many times I explain they’re just people, and she looks at you like you’re one of them.”
From the moment Jonathan Cunningham became Johnny Cunning—Hollywood’s newest heartthrob and headlining star in a superhero movie franchise—every step that’s brought him closer to becoming one of the most sought-after actors in the business has also led him further and further away from the person he used to be. The whole world might be his oyster now, yet the only thing he truly wants in life is to earn back the love of the woman he’s wronged too many times in the past, and to get to know the daughter he’s never even met.
“It’s been six years, Jonathan. Six years.”
“I know, but I just …”
“You just what? Assume I still love you?”
When an accident forces him to take a small break from acting, his heart leads him to the very place he’s worked his whole life to escape, and into the lives of the two people who will always be his only home. However, six years of heartache and disappointment have changed the young woman he once knew, making her distrustful of his promises and fearful of his love. And no matter how much she still cares for him, her child’s wellbeing remains her one and only priority.
“I’m not going to hurt her. I know that’s what you’re afraid of .”
“Yeah, well, didn’t think you’d hurt me, either, but the moment I became an inconvenience …”
What follows is a moving tale of second chances, of a man working hard to earn back the trust of those he’s let down, of a father getting to know his child for the first time and learning the true meaning of unconditional love. Through constant flashbacks to their shared past, we become invested in their love story, but we also get to see firsthand how much Jonathan’s mistakes have cost them both, how much Kennedy has sacrificed in the course of their relationship, and what it took to eventually make her walk away from it all. In her, we find a loving, compassionate, forgiving heroine who always puts the happiness of those she loves before her own, and who’s willing to keep breaking her own heart if it means protecting her daughter from ever feeling the same way.
“I love you more than everything…except for her.”
J.M. Darhower has put an incredible amount of effort in the development of all three pivotal characters in the story, which is then reflected in the overpowering connection we form so easily with each one of them. Her prose is beautiful and lyric, evoking different reactions in the reader by simply changing sentence structures or shifting points of view, and her consistent use of present tense makes us live this story and feel deeply the sting of these characters’ emotions. The cadence and the movement of her words pierce the reader’s heart time and time again, creating an almost poetic rhythm to the prose that mirrors the message of those words, but it is with repetition of certain phrases that the author underscores the crucial moments in the story, playing our heartstrings like a true maestro.
“Love you more than lunch breaks and paychecks.”
“Love you more than recess.”
“That’s a lot of love, little girl.”
“All of it in the whole world.”
I’ve said so much and yet I still feel utterly speechless every time I think of this story. This was my first book from J.M. Darhower, but one book is all it took to make me desperate to read every single word this author has ever written, because everything about this story was sheer perfection.
“I just wanted to know how long it took you to move on.”
“Oh, well, that’s an easy one. It hasn’t happened .”