I started this book yesterday morning and carried it all around all day, reading it wherever I had a moment. At the end of the day, I settled in bed and didn't stop reading until I finished this book.
After closing the book the only word I could think of was "heartbreaking" --- on so many levels. And yet it was also uplifting, romantic and somehow hopeful.
I tagged this general fiction because it is definitely not romance, despite the heavy romancey-angst element. It is definitely not chick-lit, it is too deep, too wrenching to fit into the often airy, light place I tend to deposit chick lit. Normally I would not read so far out of my comfort zone. In my fiction reading I tend to like romances, mysteries and sff. Stories that have a definite arc and tend to end the way they are supposed to end. And I definitely shy hard away from books that deal with the illness or jeopardy of a small child. So, by rights this is a book I normally would not have read. But I did and I am glad I did.
Nova Kumlisi and Mal Wacken grew up together. Their families were intertwined since since the two were babies -- helping each other through a series of hardships and illnesses. Nova and Mal's deep and abiding friendship over the years was their bedrock, the thing that grounded them both. They had also fallen deeply in love with each other but could never articulate it or let it really blossom so it was never truly explored. Into their tight circle of two comes Stephanie, the woman Mal would eventually marry. Stephanie is threatened and resentful of their relationship and both consciously and unconsciously seeks to sabotage it at first. But over time the three settle into an easy sort of detente.
Then Stephanie gets a fierce desire to have a child. Only she can't have children. As she and Mal explore their various options, the only one that seems viable to them is a surrogate. So they turn to Nova. Nova agrees and for a time the three fall into a wonderful existence where their fierce devotion is centered on the unborn child. But Stephanie's old insecurities roar to the fore again and in a set of scenes I found both chilling and distasteful she manipulates Mal into abandoning the idea of the child, leaving Nova alone and pregnant.
At this point I was so enraged that if it were possible I would have kicked both Mal and Stephanie's asses all up and down England. I had to set the book down and have some tea. It is a testament to this author's writing that I was so incredibly affected by the cruelty and selfishness of this pair.
I got a little bit of satisfaction that Stephanie and Mal do not come out unscathed. Stephanie doesn't end up having the marriage of her dreams and Mal, well, Mal's fate is worse. Nova, the one constant all of his life, has cut him out completely.
For her part Nova has the baby and it is only when a life threatening accident occurs that she contacts Mal again.
The story in told in two first person POVs, Nova's and Stephanie's. And while I think the inclusion of Stephanie's POV was so that she doesn't come off as such an unremitting villain, so you could see how her mental processes work so that you can understand why she does the things she does, it doesn't work for me. I never found her at all sympathetic. Ever. Yeah, in the end she has some revelations but as far as I am concerned, it is too little too late.
And I've read other reviews that label Stephanie as the main villain. But Mal deserves a lot of contempt as well. In my opinion (and in Nova's actually) what he does is worse. His betrayal is deeper because of all he and Nova has meant to each other. And although I actually am a bit
more sympathetic to him because I think his motives are purer than Stephanie's I will always feel he was a gaping asshole.
In the end I was happy for Nova and where she ended up, if not always approving of her journey. The story was so well written, and such an emotional rollercoaster and elicited such strong reactions that I can't help but give a hearty bravo to the author.