Eighteen year old Harper has grown up under her career Marine of a father’s thumb. Ready to live life her own way and experience things she’s only ever heard of from the jarheads in her father’s unit; she’s on her way to college at San Diego State University.
Thanks to her new roommate, Harper is introduced to a world of parties, gorgeous guys, family and emotions. Some she wasn’t expecting yet, and others she never knew she was missing.
She finds herself being torn in two as she quickly falls in love with her boyfriend Brandon, and her roommate’s brother Chase. Covered in tattoos, known for fighting in the Underground and ridiculously muscled … they’re exactly what she was always warned to stay away from, but just what she needs. Despite their dangerous looks and histories, both adore and would do anything for Harper, including stepping back if it means she’s happy.
Her first year away is turning out to be near perfect, but one weekend of giving in to heated passion will change everything.
When a book decides to tackle such serious topics such as this one, I feel that a review has to reflect that. It would be irresponsible and quite out of character for me to just skim over the massive elephant in the room and focus only on how un-puttable-down this story might have been or how pleasantly angsty some parts of it were. This is a serious book, this is not a book for the light-hearted and this is not an easy read. The best way I can describe the way the events in this book affected me would be to compare it to a wash cycle – starts slow, gentle, gradually picks up in pace, faster and faster but still safe and pain-free, then all of a sudden it starts throwing your heart around savagely and with no warning, you find yourself in a spin cycle, not knowing which way is up, and then the pace slows down again, stays slow, attempts to mend your devastated heart, but in the end you can never forget the experience of having been through that spin cycle.
This is the story of a young girl, Harper, raised and home-schooled at a military base until she was eighteen by a strict father who treated her the same way he treated his Marines – with detachment and free from emotions. Surrounded only by males throughout her entire childhood, Harper grows up with no female influences in her life. When she starts college, she finds herself not only away from home for the first time in her life, but also in an environment as foreign to her as it is exciting. She craves to find herself and catch up on all the experiences that she has missed out on while growing up.
“After eighteen years of struggling to achieve a perfection that couldn’t be reached in my father’s eyes, I was finally going to let loose, have the college experience – whatever that was – and hopefully find out who I am in the process.”
She quickly finds herself surrounded by new friends, free to do whatever she chooses to do, left to her own inexperienced devices. But what happens when you let an animal that has lived in captivity for almost two decades, free? It runs, it embraces freedom never thinking of consequences, it takes risks and it makes mistakes. Add to that the emotional immaturity of an eighteen-year-old girl and you’ve got the perfect formula for disaster. Harper finds herself in a delicious little love triangle within a week of her new college life, with no prior experience in matters of the heart or being the object of anyone’s affection. Enter Chase and Brandon, equally scrumptious and equally exciting as potential love candidates for our virginal heroine, but different as night and day.
Chase is the archetypal rebel-without-a-cause, a ‘bad boy’ whose longest relationship with a girl has barely lasted until the following morning. Meeting Harper changes something in him – he teases her relentlessly and does everything to repel her but he only does so because he sees himself as unworthy of someone like her.
“I don’t deserve you either. You need someone who will cherish you, protect you and take care of you. Someone that realizes they’d never be able to find another you in the world, no matter how hard they looked. … That first night, I did realize I would never meet another girl like you. But you deserve someone who has waited for you as long as you have waited for them. And no matter how much I wish I could be that guy, I can’t … You’re amazing Harper. There will never be anyone good enough for you.”
Their attraction is mutual and equally strong but ultimately fruitless once she meets Brandon. He is the perfect guy for Harper. He is demonstrative, open, affectionate and he doesn’t play games with her. Their attraction is just as strong and it quickly evolves into a proper relationship. Harper’s heart is torn in two, she loves both Chase and Brandon but she only sees a future with one of them.
“I don’t want to be just another girl to someone …”
Prepare yourself for a very angsty and very bumpy ride at this point, the culmination being a mistake that can’t be corrected or pretend it never happened, and everything changes after that. Harper quickly learns the meaning of heartache, how painful the consequences of her actions can be and how to be a responsible adult. I admired her for the decisions she made at that point but some of her reasoning behind it drove me bananas.
And then the ‘spin cycle’ starts – with no warning or indication that the story would take that turn – and I was left breathless for a while, gasping for air, wishing I misread or misinterpreted sentences, hoping it was just a tasteless joke at my expense. I hated the sudden turn of events, I hated that the author thought this would have been an acceptable way of dealing with the love triangle situation and I think I never forgave her for it. I personally felt that the shock-effect was unnecessary and that the gravity of the event affected my enjoyment of the rest of the book. It didn’t make the story any more ‘real’ or poignant, it just made it cruelly heartbreaking.
The pace of the second half of the book, ‘post-spin cycle’, stood in stark contrast to the first half of it. I almost felt it was written by two different people. The dialogues were unnatural, forced at times, and it didn’t flow well for me. When you break your reader’s heart with an unexpected event you have to make sure that you don’t break their spirit as well and that is where this book failed me as a reader. The subsequent events did very little to soothe me, to heal or restore my faith in the story itself. I feel that if you serve a grave injustice to the reader as part of the storyline and know for a fact that it will devastate them, you must also eventually offer an equally important ‘gift’ in return, some sort of redemption to make sense of the suffering. There has to be a balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ events and I felt that the scales were dramatically overturned in favour of the bad, for nothing else but the shock value of it. I admit that once the story changed, the characters changed as well, it modified the dynamic between them, it taught them to value what is truly important in life but some of those things could have been achieved differently. I also found that the second part of the book was so ‘detail-heavy’, every single thing was spelled out, from the way a child’s dirty onesie is washed from cake and frosting to how often a child is breastfed during the night and who gets up when he cries. It was unnecessary and apart from confusing me and making me wonder why I needed to know all those details, it added very little to the development of the characters or the plot itself.
“That boy was covered in cake and frosting. I took his onesie off and rinsed it off in the sink so all the food was [to] go down the drain instead of the washer, then helped … attempt to wipe him down. We gave up not even two minutes later and … rushed to give him a bath and put him in new clothes.”
I’ll be the first one to admit that I seek angst in my books, I need the cathartic effect that they offer me and I love nothing more than a well-executed emotional roller-coaster. But I do not like having my heart bulldozered and left for dead in the process without even being told the reason for it. The ‘lessons leant’ did not outweigh the ‘price paid’ and I was left flat, confused, resentful. However, regardless of how I felt at the end of this book, this is a story about the fragility of life itself, about what truly constitutes ‘family’ and about second chances. If you feel like you can erect a bullet-proof wall around your heart and take this book at face value without questioning the necessity of some of its parts, then you will undoubtedly enjoy it.
“People mess up and make mistakes all the time. Everyone deserves a second chance, right?”