Christina Lauren is hit and miss for me. Lauren’s novels are always well written and edited and have a strong emotional core. If you like *intensely* angsty stories, plot and character consistency be damned (no shade), I think you may really enjoy this book.
Plot: Macey’s mom died, so her dad bought them a vacation home to give her a place to relax when she was overwhelmed by life. Next door lives Elliot, a kid who really loves to read. Macey also loves reading. They become best friends on weekends. Only Something Happened, and they are estranged for 11 years, until they bump into each other at a coffee shop and have to finally reckon with the harm of the events leading to their estrangement and its consequences for both of them.
The story is very light on plot and character development. The focus is on the evolution of the relationship between the leads, both as teenagers learning to cope with loss and life and as adults who have lived on autopilot for a decade. Much of the story is spent in Macey’s head. Where there is plot, it mostly relies on contrivances to move things along. Not having each other’s contact information, having malicious “friends” around who say just the wrong lie at just the wrong time, having very fortuitous mutual acquaintances, that sort of thing.
That said, when all of these contrivances converge for what should be our emotional payoff, characters start acting weird, more to serve the plot (which, as established, is meaningless) than as a believable response to the situation or a natural progression of their character. A previously endlessly patient Elliot throws random, public temper tantrums that are then forgotten an hour later. An objective, scientific Macey gets what I can only describe as grief hallucinations?
If you enjoy Hallmark movies’s plot and characterization then you will absolutely like this.
Content warnings are hard for this because even alluding to it is effectively a major spoiler, so read on at your own risk.
There is a scene in the book which depicts sex between Elliot and a woman other than Macey. If infidelity is a no go for you, this technically fits the criteria. In fact, at one point he asks her if what he did (i.e. sleep with another woman) was really that bad. However, the way the scene is depicted, if the genders were reversed, it would be unequivocally treated as rape. Which is to say that it is still rape. He gets black out drunk at a house party, falls asleep, and when he wakes up there is a woman having sex with him. This is never treated as anything other than infidelity, yet he has such trauma from this event that he is badly triggered by intimacy for the next decade, but this is treated as guilt.
The authors created a golden opportunity to have a meaningful discussion here about the stereotyping of men as insatiable horndogs that are literally incapable of saying no to sex, to a point where it may take a victim years to even acknowledge what happened to themselves, let alone to others. Instead we got to see this victim of sexual violence have his trauma used to punish him and be magically fixed by getting back together with his high school girlfriend who has managed to “forgive” him for “his mistake” because she knows he really loves her, which is a whole other set of problematic thinking.