Wild Child - Molly O'Keefe

This was a pretty heavy emotional hitter. It was an excellent romance for the way the main characters had "emotional chemistry", some synergy that allowed them to help each other through what's a crisis point in both lives. Monica and Jackson both have a really bad record at relationships, with family as well as romance. They're both used to insulating themselves from other people, Monica formerly behind a fake persona as the ultimate party girl, and now either a brittle smile or outright hostility; Jackson by looking at everything and everyone as a responsibility he needs to fix, and by putting on an apparently charming affability that actually lets no one close. Another parallel between them is that there's friction between Jackson and the teenage sister he's been raising, and when Monica was a teenager she was in disastrous conflict with her mother, from which the damage is still raw.


When they meet, they "get" each other in ways no one else has. That's not to say that coming together is easy for them, far from it; it's the first real relationship of either of their lives, and feels tremendously scary, and something they doubt that they can even do. There are plenty of times they blunder, or do something hurtful. And more times when they think that they're doomed to fail at this relationship like all the others, or even ought to fail. So what I admire about both characters is the way that ultimately, they just won't give up, either on each other or on themselves. It's real courage and grit. They challenge each other and take risks for each other. And it is very satisfying when they finally can admit their feelings and struggle to a point of trust and unity.


The subplot about another woman in the town, Shelby, was appealing and I was glad to hear that she's the main character of another book. As for other characters, unfortunately Jackson's sister Gwen was a little bit stereotypical unhappy-teenager and her development was by the numbers; but Monica's mother was very real and interesting, and their reconciliation was not improbably warm, but cautious and incomplete, which makes sense.


Interestingly, there's an ongoing thematic thread though the book: it's set while a reality show is taping in the small town Jackson is mayor of (with a lot of pressure for the town to put on its best face), and both Monica and her mother have a long history in reality TV. There's a lot of ideas there about how people present themselves to be seen by others, and how other people's ideas of them create expectations. It's subtle and very well done.


I definitely intend to read another book in the series after I've rested a bit from the intensity.