by Kara Lowndes
Publisher: Ninestar Press
Publication Date: March 29, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
How do you get over the love of your life when you can’t even admit you loved her?
Janey has been in the closet her entire life—even when she fell for her first girlfriend, Elise, back in high school. After Elise left their small hometown of Clitheroe to pursue her dreams of becoming a musician, Janey knew that the only thing she’d have to remember her by was the song that Elise had written about Janey.
But that love song soon turned into the biggest hit of the decade, and Elise and her band return to Clitheroe a few years later to pay tribute to their hometown. Janey, still stuck where she was five years ago when Elise left, knows that she can’t let her ex slip through her fingers again.
But she’s still in the closet, and has no intention or idea of coming out to her homophobic family. How can she make amends with the woman she loved when she can’t even be honest with herself or the people closest to her?
I’m a sucker for the second chance trope and occasionally like musician romances, so of course I picked this up. While this has both of those, this is more a story about coming out.
There’s always some rationale for why the couple had to break up initially, and what’s changed to make their HEA possible now. In this case, the entire conflict revolves around Janey being in the closet. When Elise left town with her band five years ago, Janey didn’t go. She couldn’t even really label Elise as her girlfriend, then, and felt she’d be better off without her. The first time she tried to come out to her parents, it went very badly, and since then, she’s so deep in the closet that she can barely function. Even thinking the word “lesbian” in her head is enough to derail her. Her only friend is her fifty-something coworker Bess, who works at the local grocery store with her, and Janey does her best to see her parents as seldom as possible. But with Elise and her band back in town for a series of benefit concerts, Janey’s forced to confront her feelings for her and how they haven’t changed. But has Janey changed enough to give their relationship a try this time?
“I guess I’ve been…good,” she replied, after a long pause. “How about you?”
I considered the honest answer: that I was still working in the same store I had been in high school, that I was still living in the same town, that I had basically retreated back inside the closet after she had left because it was easier than being out.”
The novella is told solely from Janey’s POV, so there’s a lot of confusion and fear over her sexuality, over how Elise will treat her when she sees her again, over how her family and Bess and the town will treat her if she works up the courage to come out. But Janey and Elise together are absolutely wonderful (complete with steamy love scenes). I really wished there’d been more about their high school relationship because I think it would’ve cut some of the angst down a little and given me more reason to root for them. As for the present, I liked how Elise was willing to give Janey space, but still set the boundary that she wasn’t willing to be with someone who was still in the closet. And while it does take the shock of realizing she’s going to lose Elise again to give her the courage to come out, I think, in reconnecting with Elise, it had also showed Janey how much of her self she had pushed down and ignored. Once she’s able to acknowledge that piece of herself, she realizes how much she’d imprisoned herself. It was lovely to see her free and happy and willing to take risks at the end, though again, I wished there had been a bit more of it.
I had to double-check that the book is set in Massachusetts because there were a couple of odd word choices that made me think this was set in the UK. Nothing major, but still a bit jarring to have things like “tutted” and “taxi cab rank” alongside “high school.”
“Baby,” she reminded me, the first time she had called me that in years. “I wrote a song for you. I don’t think it gets much more cheesy than that, now, right?”
Overall, this is quick novella, and I think I’ll check out the author’s work in the future.