I have arrived at the final Cider Bar Sisters book by Jackie Lau. This is Rose’s story, and we’ve been introduced to Rose and her depression in bits and pieces over the previous books, but I think it’s important to note that Her Unexpected Roommate opens with an author’s note where Jackie Lau lays out what her reasons are for writing a lead like Rose and exactly the sorts of struggles the reader is going to experience via her characters (specifically treatment-resistant depression, and trauma related a parent’s death by suicide because of depression).
This is a case of an author writing what they know, as Lau is open in discussing her own struggles with treatment-resistant depression. In that way, Rose’s mental state is communicated in a way that provides insight without being overly weighty (I’m comfortable suggesting this book to fellow depression having folks) and there’s no easy fixes here: her depression is a big problem and with her for life, and that’s just something she and a partner will have to negotiate.
So, enter Cal. Rose meets him on an impromptu solo night out and their connection and chemistry are instant. They spend the night together, he takes her number promising to text, and then his phone is destroyed preventing him from contacting her. She is disappointed and a bit heartbroken, and unfortunately at the beginning of a bigger depressive episode. Fast forward several months and Rose’s roommate Sierra is moving out, so Sierra and their friend/landlord Amy handle finding Rose a new roommate… who turns out to be Cal. Initially Rose is convinced she won’t be able to handle having him as a housemate, but he asks for a week to prove they can do this and if they can’t then he’ll find a place to move out to in the next month. But as they spend more and more time together their old feelings and attractions come back to the surface and as this is a romance book there is going to be a romance between our leads.
Cal struggles with undiagnosed dyscalculia and ADHD and parents more interested in assigning blame than in finding out what the problem is, in seemingly all circumstances. Lau achieves a beautiful balance where we see the partners care for each other equitably. Rose is a supportive partner who stands up for Cal and reassures him that any mistakes he makes are just that. For his part, Cal likes and accepts Rose for who she is and is never thrown by the unique rhythm that Rose needs to live life by. He doesn’t focus or care much for the way things are “supposed” to be and does little things that make Rose’s life easier as he spots them. For her it can feel like big things, or that he is not taking his own wants or needs into account, but he sees the ways he makes room for her executive dysfunction or other depression related issues as being equivalent to reaching the highest shelf because he’s taller. And… the way that made my heart happy is no small thing.
For all its heavy issues, Her Unexpected Roommate is a warm, sweet romance that includes hard things, but focuses on kindness and support as the basis for a successful romantic relationship.
I received an ARC of this book from the author, it has not affected the contents of this review.
Bingo Square: Bird (this book finds itself amongst “birds of a feather” as it is my 10th Jackie Lau book of the year. It also gave me a chance to be an “early bird” but my pile of ARCs was bigger than I was able to climb in a timely manner.)