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new adult romance
Caroline & West, #2
July 1, 2014
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Caroline still dreams about West. His warm skin, his taut muscles, his hand sliding down her stomach. Then she wakes up and she’s back to reality: West is gone. And before he left, he broke her heart.
Then, out of the blue, West calls in crisis. A tragedy has hit his family—a family that’s already a fractured mess. Caroline knows what she has to do. Without discussion, without stopping to think, she’s on a plane, flying to his side to support him in any way he needs.
They’re together again, but things are totally different. West looks edgy, angry at the world. Caroline doesn’t fit in. She should be back in Iowa, finalizing her civil suit against the ex-boyfriend who posted their explicit pictures on a revenge porn website. But here she is. Deeply into West, wrapped up in him, in love with him. Still.
They fought the odds once. Losing each other was hard. But finding their way back to each other couldn’t be harder.
If you have not read the first part of Caroline and West’s story, go back and pick up the monumentally awesome Deeper (reviewed here). The story in Harder is so much deeper if you read where they are coming from.
This pair of stories is exactly what “new adult romance” is supposed to be about: people in that first stage of adulthood who are making decisions that will echo through the rest of their lives, no matter what happens.
In the case of Harder, the story is about whether these two college students will not just face their very adult problems, but also find a way to go beyond survival into thriving in the future.
This story is “harder” because it is both more difficult for Caroline and West to find a way back to each other, and because the theme goes to the question of the ways in which we make our lives harder for ourselves, by closing off options that we think might be hard, instead of striving and finding out.
At the end of Deeper, West leaves both Caroline and college in order to go back to his depressing and depressed home town of Silt, Oregon. It’s not just that his sister needs him, but that West has never believed that he was entitled to a life and happiness of his own. He expected to have to go back, and when it happens, he’s resigned rather than surprised.
He’s always been sure that Caroline deserved better than him, never acknowledging that what Caroline did or did not deserve was not a decision that was his to make.
West tries to push her away, but she’s the only light in his darkness. That he’s made his world darker than it needs to be, all on his own, is not something that he ever considers. But in the middle of too many nights, he calls her just to hear her voice.
And when his mother’s ex-boyfriend shoots his deadbeat father, West calls Caroline. He doesn’t ask for her help, but she gets on the first plane to Oregon. She wants to help. He wants someone to take care of his kid sister Frankie. Caroline wants West back.
West does his worst to make sure she leaves him. And she does, but not before making him think about what he’s doing; to her, to himself, and to his sister.
It’s the hardest thing in his life to realize that every single thing Caroline told him was right. It’s the second hardest to take his sister and his screwed up self back to college. It’s the third hardest to let Caroline all the way back into his life.
It takes him forever to figure out that the best way he can give his sister the good life that he wants for her is to live it with her, with Caroline. Frankie can only learn how to be her authentic self if West can learn it first.
Escape Rating A+: The first half of this story is a hard read. Absolutely excellent, but painfully hard. Deeper ended at the point where Caroline and West separate. It was the right ending for the story, but devastating to read.
Harder picks up where Deeper emotionally left off. Caroline and West are hundreds of miles apart and they have no future together. And neither of them can get over that fact, or move past each other to build a new life.
Of course, West feels that he doesn’t have a life, and isn’t entitled to one. As far as he’s concerned, his only purpose in this world is to protect his sister Frankie. He’s willing to sacrifice himself and everything he might ever be just to keep Frankie safe.
Then the situation hits rock bottom, and the best way for West to keep Frankie safe is to get her out of Silt and away from their neglectful mother. And West only has one place to go; back to Iowa and college. Back to Caroline. Except not.
Deeper was Caroline’s story. West made her see that she was something beyond the terrible pictures, and that if she wasn’t “fine” there was a way to get better.
Harder is West’s story. Caroline refuses to take “fine” for an answer, and refuses to stay out of his and Frankie’s life. Just as he made her think, helped her to get stronger, in Deeper, she does the same thing for him in Harder. But the journey is harder, because they both know what they’ve lost, and because West has so little faith in himself.
If you like contemporary romances featuring real, believable characters facing real problems and coming out strong and together, you’ll love Harder, very, very hard indeed.
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