Review: Meant to Be by Jude Deveraux

Review: Meant to Be by Jude DeverauxMeant to Be by Jude Deveraux
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, family saga, historical fiction, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Mira on March 16, 2021
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An inspiring new family saga by New York Times bestselling author Jude Deveraux
Two headstrong sisters are bound by tradition but long to forge their own path.

It’s 1972 and times are changing. In the small farming community of Mason, Kansas, Vera and Kelly Exton are known for their ambitions. Vera is an activist who wants to join her boyfriend in the Peace Corps. But she is doing her duty caring for her widowed mother and younger sister until Kelly is firmly established. Kelly is studying to become a veterinarian. She plans to marry her childhood sweetheart and eventually take over his father’s veterinary practice.
But it’s a tumultuous time and neither sister is entirely happy with the path that’s been laid out for her. As each evaluates her options, everything shifts. Do you do what’s right for yourself or what others want? By having the courage to follow their hearts these women will change lives for the better and the effects will be felt by the generations that follow. Meant to Be delivers an emotional, smart, funny and wise lesson about the importance of being true to yourself.

My Review:

Shakespeare said that “the course of true love never did run smooth”. That’s especially true when you don’t know where it’s going in the first place. Or rather, when everyone around you is dead certain that you are “meant to be” with someone – everyone except you, that is.

Because what you’re really meant to be is – you.

Everyone in tiny Mason, Kansas knows that Vera Exton is meant to be with Adam Hatten, and that they are meant to run off together, far away from Mason. That same everyone is equally certain that Vera’s younger sister Kelly is meant to be with Paul, the stepson of the local vet.

What that same everyone did NOT know was that Vera loved escaping from Mason considerably more than she loved Adam, and that Kelly loved her future as a veterinarian, going into partnership with Paul’s stepfather Dr. Carl, more than she ever did Paul. That Adam loved taking over his responsibilities to the Hatten holdings way more than he did Vera, while Paul loved his fledgling organic apple orchard considerably more than he ever loved Kelly.

The story that opens Meant to Be in the summer of 1972 is the story of that entire herd of drama llamas sorting themselves out into a configuration that no one in town had the remotest thought might ever come to be.

Except for one important part. When the dust settled – and was there EVER a lot of dust – Vera Exton left Mason, just as she had always planned to.

Vera became a world-famous journalist and war correspondent, while life in Mason went on its slightly altered way, as Kelly married Adam, the man that Vera was supposed to marry. Paul’s organic farm became a very successful part of a growing trend – and he finally came out of the closet.

While, the man that Vera really loved stayed in Mason to raise the daughter that he fathered the night he deliberately drove Vera away to seek her fame and fortune, and fulfill her dreams and her destiny. He set her free – and she flew.

When Vera returns home for a brief visit 20 years later, the family she left behind is broken and hurting. It turns out that there are plenty of secrets still left to reveal from the mess of that singular summer so long ago.

It’s time for all of Vera’s, and everyone else’s, chickens to come home to roost – and maybe even lay a few more eggs.

Escape Rating B: I have to say that it is weird seeing a time period that I remember living through portrayed as historical. I was in high school in 1972, and the ferment about the Vietnam War was very present and feels true to life. It was also a time when attitudes towards women’s careers and women’s accomplishments were just beginning to change. We were told we could do and be anything, but faced a lot of skepticism when we tried and had few examples to follow.

Which meant that parts of both Vera’s and Kelly’s dilemmas felt very real, while at the same time their situations felt like a bit of a throwback. And it may very well be that I remember this period a bit too well and that I’m too close to it to step back and see it as “historical”.

At the same time, this is very much of a “family saga”, more women’s fiction or relationship fiction than romance. Romances definitely occur, but the backbone of the story feels like it’s wrapped around all of the many, many interrelationships among the families and the town itself.

Mason is small enough that everybody knows everyone else’s business whether they want it known or not. Expectations and assumptions are impossible to escape.

Vera and Kelly are both caught on the horns of multiple familiar dilemmas. Vera is expected to stay in Mason to take care of her mother and her sister until Kelly finishes vet school and gets married so she and her husband can take over that job. And then Vera can leave town as she’s always wanted to.

Kelly feels like the only way she can get to stay in Mason, where she wants to stay, and be a vet is to go into partnership with her boyfriend’s stepfather. Because her boyfriend’s mother is snooty and hates everyone and won’t allow a young woman to become her husband’s assistant unless that young woman is married to her son.

It seems like a lot of the story in 1972 is set up that way, where each person assumes that they have to take care of someone or something else in order to have half a shot at getting what they want. In a place where everyone relies on everyone else, no one seems to be allowed to just reach out and grab their own dreams – especially if they are female.

The first two thirds of this story, the 1972 part, read a lot like a soap opera. Everyone seems to be saying one thing, doing another, and hiding all of it from as many people as possible, until all the secrets blow up in everyone’s face, with all the mixed results and circling drama llamas that one might imagine.

What lifts this story from something typical to something a bit more interesting is the way that it continues from that 1972 soap opera start into the 1990s and eventually comes almost to the present. We get to see the consequences of the earlier events into a troubled middle and a bittersweet end.

All of the characters manage to find, not necessarily a happy ever after, which is why this isn’t strictly speaking a romance, but rather, to not just find out but to actually live as the people they were Meant to Be.