Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Publication Date: November 25, 2010
Genre: Romantic Suspense
Sometimes the safest path is to keep people at a distance…especially men. Cara’s life has been one nightmare after another. Abused as a child and neglected by her parents, she’s quick to blame herself for every cruel thing that happens to her. And then there’s James, the only man capable of making her forget her misgivings and learn to love again.
I’ve been sitting here staring at my blinking cursor for a while now, trying to think of something to say to ease into this, but it’s not coming. This book did that to me. I was stunned while I was reading it, stunned afterwards. I ended up emailing the author when I finished it at ten to two in the morning to tell her she’d left me in tears. I guess that’s where I start.
The story begins in 1967, when the very innocent 6th grade Cara was raped by her neighbor, who also happened to be her best friend’s father and her own father’s law partner. Indicative of the time and likely the small town that Cara lived in, when the abuse eventually came out, the neighbor suddenly left town, her father ignored things while her mother made it all Cara’s fault and the town gossiped about the rape. Cara reacted the way a lot of survivors do, shutting off her sexuality entirely; when she finally starts dating again late in high school, her parents overreact to a situation and have her admitted to a mental hospital as a sort of “wake up call” where she’s treated violently. One of the people who takes care of her is a medical student named James Mackie, who’s disturbed by her case and they way she’s being treated. I think it’s pretty important to note that he’s not romantically interested in her at this point.
Cara’s life takes a bad turn when she’s released. She rebels, and her mother continues to be emotionally abusive. When Cara turns to drugs, she’s again placed in danger of being sexually assaulted and literally runs into James again. While he’s still not thinking about dating her, he’s disturbed enough about caring about her that he abruptly ends his relationship with someone else. Cara bottoms out and finally gets the psychiatric help she needs; by the time she runs into James again, she’s a college student, he’s a resident and both are ready to start a romantic relationship. Just when it looks like the two will have a happily ever after, tragedy strikes and Cara ends up running away and making an unbelievably bad decision that might keep her away from James forever.
I found myself trying to get a handle on the right genre for the book after I finished it, because there were distinct romantic suspense sections, but this was also very much a psychological drama and I almost hesitate to call James and Cara’s relationship arc a romance. It was less and more: maybe because it started when she was so much younger and ended when she was so much more mature (although chronologically not that much older, it ends in 1979), this felt more like what I’d at least call a love story than a romance, to put a finer point on it. They didn’t spend as much page time actively together in a typical “romance,” but it was always clear in scenes apart that they loved each other, sometimes to the detriment of their relationship.
There were a couple of times the story became almost too grim, and that was one of the things that niggled at me. I can’t spoil it because the scene is simply so important to the story, but her reasons for leaving James before she heads west and into the hands of the drug dealer seemed so cruel to me after the wonderfully romantic time the two had shared. I also worry that someone will stumble into this and not get how much of what Cara does can be traced right back to what happened when she was raped as a child. I came to care so much about this woman that I’m protective of her even when I’m trying to review this book.
Yes, the part about getting entangled with a mobster, not knowing he’s an insane, drug-addicted dealer is a little..out there. Yes, in the context of everything else that’s happened to this poor woman, it’s a pile-on. Yes, it has the feel of a contrived way to separate the lovers for that one last, will-they-wait-forever sort of heart-clutching moment. But it works because by the time the book reaches that point, you really, really care. Cara is real. Because Cara is so real, you know why James just can’t give up on her, even when she’s screwing her life up beyond belief. And because Cara has pulled herself together when she’s scraped bottom over and over, they both continue to have hope, so no matter how bad it feels for them, you have hope too.
My Summary: This positively sings with emotional authenticity. Cara is a haunting example of what can happen to victims of sexual violence as well as an example of how they become survivors. I knew before I started reading this that it was going to be a tough read; I didn’t expect that it was going to put me through such an emotional wringer, one that’s going to stick with me for a long time. This is an absolute recommend.
My Rating: A