Trigger Warnings: Descriptions of school shooting, panic attacks
All the feels. Seriously, all the feels. I read this pretty much non-stop in an afternoon, with a box of tissues next to me.
I’ll address this first off: this is hard subject matter (romance in the aftermath of a school shooting???), but I think Ms. Loren handled it impeccably. As a trauma survivor myself, the descriptions of the survivor’s guilt and panic attacks, the overreactions to innocuous triggers, were very realistic. I think it helps that this was set more than a decade after the actual shooting, when the characters involved have had time to grieve and heal.
“Even after all the years that had passes, Finn still seemed able to get her mind off things. When her mom was going through chemo and everything was doom and gloom at home, Finn could somehow figure out ways not just to make her laugh, but to do so in a way that didn’t make her feel guilty for feeling a moment of happiness.”
Liv and Finn haven’t seen each other for twelve years, not since the school shooting during their senior prom that fractured their lives. Both are still scarred, physically and mentally, and while they think they’ve “gotten over it” and have fulfilling lives, their run-in with each other at a documentary interview for the anniversary of the shooting leads to a reevaluation of their lives. Surprisingly enough, their attraction is still there, and the reunion of the survivors leads to some uncomfortable realizations for Liv of how far short she’s fallen from her teenage vow to live her life to the fullest for her classmates who didn’t get that chance. Finn, an undercover FBI cop just coming out of a two year mission, has rented a lakeside house in order to take some mandated R&R, and Liv decides to spend some summer weekends with him rediscovering her passion for photography instead of slaving away at her job as a web designer. Because, of course, they can keep things between them “just friends,” right?
“I could babysit the hell out of you, Finn Dorsey. I know who you used to be. You don’t get to become a bad guy. I will make you do slumber-party things like play charades or watch crappy nineties movies or incessant reruns of Friends. You won’t be able to fight your old goofy side. It will emerge like a freaking butterfly and smother scary Finn.”
Liv and Finn’s relationship is sweet and sexy. I loved how the growth of their relationship mirrored both Finn and Liv re-learning themselves and letting go of their fears. Painted as the hero, for supposedly saving his prom date’s life, Finn has thrown himself into his FBI job with the goal of shutting down the group that sold the weapons to the school shooters, to the point where he’s subsumed the rest of his life to that goal. Liv originally self-medicated with alcohol and one-night-stands in college, but now works long hours as a web designer, with no time for anything else. As their relationship deepens, they realize that maybe, just maybe, there’s something more to life than revenge (motivated by guilt) or just “having a good job.”
“You don’t need a babysitter, but maybe you could use an old friend who knows the original color of the paint beneath all those layers life has slapped on you.”
I loved Liv’s tribe – a group of women who survived. Though they weren’t friends before the attack, they ended up in the same counseling group and supported each other through their grief in the following year. However, they’ve all become nothing more than friends on Facebook, but reunite again during the documentary shooting. As Liv spends more time back in her hometown, she doesn’t just reconnect with Finn but also with these friends, and when the inevitable heartbreak happens, they’re there to help pick her up again.
“I realize the high of happiness I feel this summer with you will come with an equal level of sadness when you leave… But it’s two sides of the same coin. You don’t get to have only one side or the other. You have to put the whole thing in your pocket and take both, or you get nothing at all. I don’t want to live with empty pockets anymore.”
For the subject matter, this book is not that drama-ridden. Does that mean that some things were wrapped up a bit too patly? Yes, but I think I prefer that to sending the characters through the wringer again. Trust me, I already used up plenty of tissues reading this book! Beyond that, though, there’s plenty of humor to balance it out, as Finn and Liv have a deliciously playful side that was a joy to read. Overall, this book is an uplifting story of healing and letting go of fear.
Oh, and that gorgeous cover photo? Actually reflects a scene in the book.
There was a few chapters of the next book, Rebecca’s story, at the end, and now, OF COURSE, I’m dying for the next book. Highly recommended!