There is something so compelling about seeing real, flawed characters put into impossible situations and then watching them grow, adapt, learn to be better people, and Colleen Hoover’s new novel spins that very premise into a powerful tale of redemption, forgiveness, love, and the lengths to which a mother will go to be part of her child’s life. Told with piercing prose and savage honesty, Hoover’s every word is designed to have an effect, and it truly takes a writer at the top of her game to deliver a story that has so many jagged edges, yet leaves the reader feeling uplifted and changed—once they can see through the tears again.
I know from experience that if you’re going to grow up with an imperfect mother, it’s better to grow up knowing your imperfect mother is fighting for you than to grow up knowing she doesn’t give a shit about you.
A tragic mistake cost Kenna Rowan five years in prison and custody of her only child. Determined to reclaim the daughter she’s never even held in her arms, Kenna is back in the town that would always view her as a villain, starting life from scratch by working a minimum paying job and living in an apartment with not even so much as a bed to sleep on. She has spent the past five years coming to terms with the events of that one fateful night that shaped the rest of her life, accepting her role in it and submitting to the decisions of those whose lives she changed forever. But Kenna has never lost hope in being a mother to her child, in giving her daughter the kind of unconditional love she’s never known herself, and even though she is willing to do anything in her power to have that, she knows all too well that there might always be an insurmountable mountain of pain standing in her way.
There are things I want to be good at. I want to be a good mother. To my future kids, but mostly to the daughter I already brought into this world. I want to have a yard that I can plant stuff in. Stuff that will flourish and not die. I want to learn how to talk to people without wishing I could retract every word I said. I want to be good at feeling things when a guy touches my waist. I want to be good at life.
When Kenna meets Ledger Ward, she’s a stranger to him, and he to her. Their attraction is immediate and urgent, but once Ledger learns the identity of the woman he can’t stop fantasising about, his only priority becomes keeping her far away from the little girl he loves the most in the world. Because five years of preconceived notions about a person are hard to let go of, and he knows that her presence in their lives would only lead to more sorrow and misery.
I don’t like that the one person I dislike the most in this world reminds me of the person I love the most.
Nevertheless, his pull to Kenna never wanes, only fuelling the constant battle raging inside him between hating her for what she’s done, and feeling overwhelming compassion for a young woman who’s been through so much, and yet continues to have so much to give.
It shouldn’t matter if a mother isn’t perfect. It shouldn’t matter if she’s made one big, horrible mistake in the past, or a lot of little ones. If she wants to see her child, she should be allowed to see her, even if it’s just once.
Colleen Hoover’s hand is masterful, her sentences are precise and cutting, and the way she charts Ledger’s change of heart is convincing and unhurried. But the beating heart of this novel remains Kenna, whose humanity lures us in even before her whole story is revealed. Through a series of letters that read more as diary entries than truly letters intended to be read by another, and aimed to give the reader an intimate insight into Kenna’s character, we begin to piece together the broken fragments of this young woman’s life, and each flashback to her past cuts like a scalpel.
I’m starting to wonder if you’re the saddest girl I’ve ever met.
All is reflected in the ending—family, compassion, love—but the focus remains on Kenna’s journey of self-forgiveness until the very last sentence. This beautifully tragic story should be on anyone’s must-read list.
I think there’s room in a tragedy this size for everyone to be both right and wrong.