It’s not every day that you find a book that affects you so deeply and so completely that you’re not really sure how to process anything else for a while, let alone move on from it, so when it happens, the only thing you can do is immediately flip back to the beginning and start again. A powerful story that both moved and enraptured me—beautifully written and infused with the perfect mix of emotion and steam—this book was absolutely everything I didn’t know I was looking for when I randomly picked it from an endless lineup of possibilities, quickly becoming a truly unforgettable reading experience.
“I’m back in the town that thinks I’m a hero when I wasn’t, talking to some reporter about stuff I wish I could forget, and standing here with the girl I almost got killed—and I still don’t know what to say to her.”
We meet the characters on the twelve-year anniversary of two gunmen walking into their high school prom and opening fire. One of only a handful of survivors of that tragic day and back in her hometown for a documentary interview, Olivia ‘Liv’ Arias might have spent the past decade of her life trying to escape her past, but the moment she steps onto her old high school grounds, she is reminded of the night she spent cowering in a janitor’s closet, listening to two classmates massacre fellow students all around her. Old feelings of anxiety and fear immediately bubble over inside her, but it all comes to a standstill when a ghost from her past walks into the interview room and forces her to remember a teenage broken heart, too.
Her words cut off, her voice dying a quick death, as Finn got closer and some of the studio lights caught him in their glare. The man approaching was nothing like the boy she’d known. The bulky football muscles had streamlined into a harder, leaner package. The smooth face was now dusted with scruff, and the look in his deep-green eyes held no trace of boyish innocence. A thousand things were in those eyes. A thousand things welled up in Liv.
Once a star athlete from one of the most affluent families in town, Finn Dorsey became the hometown hero after shielding his prom date during the school shooting and saving her life, but for the past twelve years, he has felt like nothing more than a coward who abandoned the girl he loved inside a janitor’s closet in order to protect another. So when he runs into Olivia after all those years, he is overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and remorse, and the sudden realisation that his feelings for her never went away.
He’d wanted to reach for her. He’d wanted to fix things. Apologize. Do something to take that haunted look out of her eyes. Do something to show her how goddamned sorry he was for how spectacularly he’d let her down. But he’d seen it in her face. There was nothing to be done. The past was locked in stone. He knew that better than anyone. The scars were deep and permanent, and he’d left an extra vicious one on Liv.
From the moment they lay eyes on one another, they are reminded of all they once meant to each other, of the happiness and hope they felt when they were together, and the pain they still felt from losing it all. So when an opportunity presents itself to spend a summer rekindling their friendship, while reminding each other of the people they once were and the dreams they once had, they decide to seize it.
“You don’t need a babysitter, but maybe you could use an old friend who knows the original color of the paint beneath all those layers life has slapped on you. Maybe I could, too.”
But their friendship quickly becomes more, both falling in love easily and irreversibly, and even knowing that tomorrow would inevitably bring them heartache, they decide to open their hearts to one another and to live in the moment, even when that moment couldn’t last for very long.
Yes, this was messy and would get worse. It was temporary. But with him deep inside her, skin to skin, his lips on hers, and the words I love you in her ear, she’d finally found what she’d been searching for. The woman she wanted to be. She wasn’t living scared anymore.
While weaving a truly breathtaking romance between Olivia and Finn, laced with intense passion and emotion, the author also does a remarkable job at creating such complex, interesting, vivid lead characters whose emotional journey throughout the story is as compelling as the one that leads them back to one another. Their bond forces them to confront old wounds and to recognise how much pain they were both still in, while bringing back to life all the hopes and dreams they pushed aside over the years.
Teen Liv had been racked with anxiety and nightmares, but still, she’d craved adventure. Art. Passion. She’d believed she could still have it. What did grown-up Liv believe? Want? Did she even know?
I read this book cover to cover in one glorious sitting, Roni Loren’s startling prose searing right into me and making me incapable of putting this story down. And while the book explores some darker, heavier themes that are necessarily present in a story of this kind, the novel nonetheless left me feeling uplifted, hopeful, and inspired. An absolute must-read.
“I know you don’t need a protector. But if you’re with me, you’re getting one. I’m never going to be that guy who left you vulnerable again. I can’t offer much these days, but I can promise you that. I’ve got your back, Livvy. I can keep you safe.”