Beth Moran books are always so uplifting and cozy, like a cup of hot chocolate on a cold day, or like a non-cheesy Hallmark movie. She doesn’t shy away from some of the “tough” issues in life (which is why they’re not cheesy). There are always a myriad of different kinds of relationships spanning the generations, which helps the main character to feel like they’re in a makeshift family, though often biological family is involved too. And things always turn out right in the end. There’s a satisfying happily-ever-after. Just my favorite kind of fictional escape.
This one threw me for a loop early on. It starts off when Jessie is in high school, which is younger than most of Beth Moran’s 20-something protagonists. She is going to prom with her twin brother Isaac, and his best friend Elliot, with whom Jessie is secretly in love–but her protective brother has forbidden any of his friends from pursuing a relationship with his twin. Nevertheless, Jessie and Elliot sneak off together, and she learns that he feels the same way. There’s a wonderful romantic moment, but they have to be careful not to be discovered, because Isaac doesn’t know yet. Elliot makes Jessie swear that she won’t tell Isaac anything until he’s had a chance to tell him himself. In a romantic haze, Elliot runs away, and doesn’t see the oncoming car.
That was the prologue. I assumed for a good chunk of the next chapter (10 years later) that Elliot had died, and if this were any other author with whom I had less experience, I might have stopped reading right then. I’m so glad I stuck with it, though. It turned out that Elliot didn’t die, but he did suffer a traumatic brain injury which meant that he had to relearn a lot of things, and continued to struggle with memory and emotional regulation. Jessie never did tell Isaac about that night, because she’d promised Elliot she wouldn’t–and also because, in her mind, the accident was all her fault. She’d distracted Elliot, and then he’d been hit, and as far as she was concerned, she’d ruined his life. She spent years in and out of therapy, feeling terribly guilty and hating herself, and thus never accomplishing much in her life. When the story resumes, she’s in a relationship with a guy whom she expects to marry, and he’s the first one who ever treated her decently because before, she had a tendency to pick losers (as women who dislike themselves often do). Seb isn’t great either, though, and before committing to her, he moves away for a summer to “find himself.” Jessie is down on her luck financially, and her brother Isaac invites her to move in with him and his roommates while Seb is away. She agrees because the price is right, only to discover that Isaac lives… with Elliot.
This of course brings up all kinds of complicated emotions for Jessie: guilt at first, but then as she realizes that Elliot has actually learned to be quite functional for the most part, attraction returns. Elliot is set for life from the settlement for the accident, so he spends his time coaching soccer for kids with various special needs, even though the team is terrible, and somehow Jessie becomes his assistant coach (because Elliot’s memory problems cause him to need help.) Her twin meanwhile has a history of being a player, but he’s fallen in love with a girl who has an autistic son, who happens to be on Elliot’s soccer team. The girl, Connie, knows Isaac’s reputation though, and won’t give him the time of day. The third roommate, Arthur, works at a funeral parlor, and he’s the exact kind of quirky nerd that I recall from many of my high school math and science AP classes: very socially inept, but in an endearing way. He, too, has fallen in love with a girl who also works at the funeral parlor, and knows he wants to marry her… but alas, never in his life has he ever made it past a first date. So the three boys agree to lower Jessie’s rent (which she really can’t afford) in exchange for making her their relationship coach–which they call the “Boys to Men Project.” Jessie agrees to this, but she feels like a fraud, since as far as she’s concerned, she’s never succeeded at anything herself.
Meanwhile, Jessie and Isaac’s parents run a retirement home, and they hire Jessie as their activities coordinator for the elderly who affectionately dub themselves “the outlaws.” There are a series of episodic hijinks there, too, as well as some touching moments as Jessie reconnects with Madeline, the elderly woman whom she worked for the summer after Elliot was injured.
The ending is just perfect. I can’t wait for Beth Moran’s next release.
My rating: *****
Language: none that I recall, but very little if any
Sexual content: none
Political content: none