When I’m in a reading lull, I go on reddit. I know. This is dangerous territory, but there are subreddits full of romance readers that have wildly different exposures to romance and it can be an excellent way to discover new authors. This is one of those books.
Plot: Olivia is traumatized from having cheated on her longtime boyfriend with his best friend, so in true Rich Girl fashion, she throws a tantrum and tries to run away to “Rwanda or Haiti” or one of those places “with the intention of saving the world” in recompense for being a monster. Her parents, worried about her going to such gross places, instead coordinate for her to become a personal care worker to shut-in veteran in a small town. Turns out he’s hot, and also not actually injured (this is not a spoiler – we know this from their first meeting). From there, it’s a fairly by the numbers Beauty and the Beast retelling except this time both protagonists are spoiled rich people and our new Belle doesn’t actually read anything other than gossip magazines. There are no shenanigans.
The thing is that as I started reading it, I was already getting red flags (see “Rwanda or Haiti”) but I figured it’s fine, because this is the starting point of a spoiled white girl who has had everything handed to her and has no idea the extent of suffering in her own country or the White Saviour complex. Fine. We all start somewhere. Only this never changes. There are no people of colour at all in this story. When the existence of them comes up, it is either as impoverished victims (see “Rwanda or Haiti” and yes I am still on that), sadistic “Afghani” insurgents who torture soldiers for the kicks, and the sketchiness and stinkiness of Harlem (apparently Thai food generally and Bangkok specifically are basically universally acknowledged insufferable smells). Oh, and for no reason at all, Olivia spends literally the entire book reading a biography of Andrew Jackson – arguably the only president worse than Trump, a person responsible for the genocide of millions, and her only complaint is that biographies are boring.
It doesn’t help that even by the end, when the protagonists have apparently grown and learned the things they needed to learn, they were still relying exclusively on their class and race privilege to make it on their own. Honey, if your daddy’s rich friends handed you a job, you’re not doing shit on your own. So if you’re expecting a nuanced view of life as a soldier, the complexity of PTSD, the lack of support for veterans to reintegrate after service, and the morally grey area of even being in Afghanistan in the first place, you will not find it here. This book is all about #supportthetroops in the uncritical way of the conservative right, which is no doubt why Paul’s intense injuries and PTSD are solved with tough love by an untrained, inexperienced overgrown child.
The other problem with this book is that I just don’t understand who this is written for. A lot of the negative reviews on goodreads essentially have readers complaining that they were expecting a dark romance and instead got a sugary fluff fest. Indeed, this was something that suggested to me I might like it, since I strongly dislike dark romances. But it isn’t not dark either. There are still major issues of consent, abuse, problematic power dynamics and (entirely unnecessary) stalking. So folks who enjoy dark romances will not enjoy this because the story doesn’t commit to it whole hog, but folks who enjoy sex-positive, consent oriented stories will also not like, because it will be way too dark for them. I don’t know who the Goldilocks reader is for this book – maybe people who typically really enjoy dark romance and are looking for a lighter, fluffy version of it? If that’s you, and you can overlook the low-key white supremacist nonsense constantly hovering in the background, maybe this book will work for you more than it worked for me.