There’s nothing like a great romance novel to cancel out the incessant noise inside and outside of our heads these days, but as it is always the case with Kennedy Ryan’s offerings, a romance is never just a romance, and her every word is imbued with a breathless sense of purpose and hope. Friendship, love, and second chances may be the bedrock of the story, but there is more to this story than two childhood best friends finding each other again and rekindling what they once had. A fervent celebration of perseverance and self-determination, this is the tale of a woman forging her own trailblazing path in life, and doing it on her own terms. It’s complicated, it’s messy, it’s bittersweet, it’s beautiful, it’s unflinchingly real, but a story about love is rarely black and white, and every single second of it is just as it should be. A triumph!
“Whatever was between us when we were young never got the chance to become…more. But it’s still there, and it could never be nothing.”
Raised next door to each other for the first thirteen years of their lives, Kimba Allen and Ezra Stern had once been the best of friends, sharing a powerful bond that slowly bloomed into young love, until they suddenly were no longer in each other’s lives at all. Twenty years later and now in their late 30s, they are both accomplished professionals who’ve dedicated their careers to making a difference in the lives of the marginalised and the less privileged. But while Ezra’s also had a small family of his own, Kimba’s career has been the only epicentre of her adult life, to the neglect of everything else.
I’d discovered this beautiful butterfly when she was a caterpillar and she had been completely mine. Now the whole world marveled at the spread of her wings, basked in her vibrant color. Now everyone knew how fantastic she was and she’d never be just mine again.
When they meet again, there’s no denying that the visceral bond between them is still as strong as ever, nor that the many years of being apart instantly melt away. We watch them discover how they’ve changed over the years, and what parts have remained exactly the same. We watch them erase the years, yet struggle with all they’ve missed. And time has ultimately complicated their lives in ways that nothing can spare them the heartbreak of having to make some very difficult decisions.
I haven’t seen this man in more than two decades, but my breath hitches when faced with the life he made apart from me. We were just kids, and of course he made a life without me, just like I made a life without him, but my heart still sinks like an anchor to the ocean floor.
With so many years lost and never to return, and a myriad of obstacles in their way, every moment of joy between Kimba and Ezra feels beautifully earned. There’s a lot of pain on these pages, but hope continues to flicker between the lines, too, and as the characters continue to work honestly and bravely through everything keeping them apart, their struggle feels breathtakingly human and relatable. The beauty of Kennedy Ryan’s books is not just in her striking prose or the thoughtful precision with which she skewers some deeply knotted truths—it’s also in the way her very essence seeps through her words, spellbinding us page after page, and delivering a poignant tale of love, of history, of legacy, and of a hopeful future. Watch this book soar.
There have always been hard-to-reach places in me that only Ezra could find, could touch. Even when we were kids, when I barely understood myself, in a deserted park on a pair of swings, he would ask the right questions or he’d leave me the quiet to figure things out myself. All the times we were there for each other rush back to me on a loop. And we will strengthen each other. If only I had known this was possible for us. I would have torn the world apart searching for Ezra Stern.
I catch sight of Ezra watching me, one shoulder leaned into the back doorjamb, an old affection on his new face. In some ways, I’m still reconciling this adult “fine ass” Ezra with the boy who took up much less space in the world, but who was even then, my whole world. I lose my focus mid-jump and fall on my butt. The trampoline, bouncily forgiving, throws me back up and springing to my feet. My forced breaths come loud in the quiet night as our stares tangle. We’ve snared each other with a look and I can’t wiggle free. Ezra’s smile dwindles and he takes a few steps forward until he’s at the lip of the trampoline.
“Can you imagine if we’d had one of these growing up?” he asks.
“We would never have gone to school.”
He nods to the surface where my feet still lift a few inches reflexively. “May I?”
“It’s your trampoline,” I say, as breathless from his proximity as I am from exertion.
He steps through the net and onto the taut surface, taking my hand. A kaleidoscope of butterflies instantly migrates from my belly to my throat. I should object even to this contact, but I don’t. I simply look from our joined hands to the smile on his face.
“Let’s jump,” he says.
And then we’re bouncing, facing each other, looking into each other’s eyes as the trampoline tosses us into the air. It hits him first, the laughter. A smothered chuckle when he releases my hand to bounce on his butt, then to his feet, and then springing higher into the air. And then I’m in its clutches, the mirth, the giggle spilling out of me like an overturned bin of pixie dust. It suffuses the air around us, the joy. We’re kids again, without cares or responsibilities. There are no ceilings on our dreams or walls on what could be. We could jump all night and laugh until dawn. Except after a few minutes, we stop bouncing to land on our butts and lie on our backs and look up. There’s a silver scythe moon slicing through the black velvet sky.
“The stars are a blessing tonight,” Ezra says, his voice hushed like if he speaks too loudly, he’ll scare them off. “Living in the city, you don’t always see them like this. These are special occasion stars.”
I smile at the whimsy of the boy that survived in the man. “And what’s the occasion?” I turn my head to study the rugged beauty of his profile.
He turns his head, too, and his smile evaporates like cotton candy on your tongue, a sweet vanishing. “Us,” he says. “We’re the special occasion.”
Who moves first, I’m not sure. Later my pride will say he did, but that could be a lie to exonerate myself. Regardless, his hand is cupping my face and my fingers burrow into the shorn curls at his neck. His thumb brushes my mouth, an echo of our first innocent kiss, but this kiss isn’t tentative or shy. He tugs my chin until my mouth opens and he licks into me, hungry and reckless. I lick back, I suck back, I groan back. This kiss flies into the sun, melting my iron will and burning my reservations to ashes. I fight my way through the lust fog and search for reason, a mirage in the distance, something flickering in and out of sight between hot fantasy and cold, hard reality.
“You said I could trust you,” I pant between kisses. “I don’t cheat, Ezra.”
He stills, opens his eyes, rests his forehead against mine, his harshly drawn breaths fanning over my lips both wet and burning. “Neither do I.”