Stories about school shootings are sadly never not relevant. In fact, the premise behind the tragedy that is the backdrop for the second installment in this series by Roni Loren is scarily prescient. I began reading this book the day of the Santa Fe shooting in Texas, trying to grapple with my own feelings about being so close to this latest preventable tragedy. The motive behind the fictional and the real murders appear to be unimaginably similar.
This book is barely about the shooting, however, and that’s how it should be. Tragedy shapes lives, but it doesn’t define them. Rebecca has to deal with a lot of the guilt that she has carried throughout the years, not only of being one of the few survivors, but also of her role in being the supposed inciting incident of one of the gunmen. There’s a lot to unpack here, which Loren doesn’t really spend much time on, but would make excellent discussion for a book group. Rebecca’s big secret shapes most of her life. She focuses on her career, trying to be the perfect daughter and career woman, taking pride in her efficient mask of productivity. The only problem is that she’s completely removed passion from her life in an effort to atone for past mistakes.
Wes Garrett has his own demons that he’s running from, but they are slightly less dramatic. After a series of poor choices, he’s now broke, teaching cooking classes at an alternative school for troubled youth. He was on the cusp of opening a fancy restaurant, having his photo in all the high end trade magazines, when a divorce completely knocked him off his feet, leading him to drown his sorrows in alcohol abuse. The catch is that the lawyer that represented his ex-wife is none other than Rebecca.
The romance between them goes in fits and starts, with both of them immediately recognizing their attraction to each other but trying to ignore it, while they are continually shoved into situations together out of coincidence. There’s great tension between them, from the agreement to be “friends who kiss” to the eventual “casual hook up” that turns into anything but.
Throughout the book, Wes has to deal with his tendency to run and hide in a bottle, and Rebecca has to come to terms with her PTSD and guilt over the shooting that occurred over a decade before. It all comes to a head with both of them having to set their fears aside in order to help a troubled kid.
If you are looking for tragedy porn here, look away. This book is not going to get into all of the whys and hows of school shootings, or any mass gun violence. This book focuses on the people who survive. And that’s where our attention should be.
free copy courtesy of NetGalley for review