Author’s dedication: To that wounded marine with no leg and only half a hand I met in the Orlando airport… your pain made an impression on me. Semper Fi.
HOLY WOW. I mean WOW!!!!!
I’m wiping away tears as I write here. This was one of the most heart-felt and poignant books I’ve experienced in a long time. It made me laugh, cry, and feel for these characters so incredibly much. It was deep and meaningful. For those of you who’ve read this author before, this is an entirely new side to her writing and I loved it! I knew from reading the blurb that this would be a very unique story and, while I didn’t know what to expect when I started it, from the very first page, I could not put it down. I was utterly captivated by this story that was simultaneously heart-breaking and heart warming. It was raw, honest, painful, beautiful, romantic, and unforgettable! A top favorite!
An angry, bitter amputee.
An optimist losing her eyesight.
A dying kid.
A suicidal thief.
Four people with nothing in common but their destination.
Despite having narrowly escaped death’s clutches, Christopher Barlow is grateful for nothing. His capacity to love has been crushed. He hates everyone and everything, completely unable to see past the gray stain of misery that coats his perception of the world. It’s only after he involuntarily joins a band of depressed misfits who are struggling to overcome their own problems, does Christopher start to re-evaluate his lot in life.
What could they possibly learn from one another? How could they possibly help each other to heal? And the question that Christopher asks himself over and over again… can he learn to love again?
He’s about to find out as he embarks upon a cross country trip with a beautiful woman who is going blind, a boy with terminal cancer, and an abuse victim who can’t decide whether she wants to live or die.
They will encounter adventure, thrills, loss and love.
And within their travels they will learn the greatest lesson of all.
The hard truth about sunshine…
Given the themes presented in the blurb, I began reading this book prepared for the intense heart ache and pain that I knew this story would be laden with, but what I didn’t expect was the wry wit and humor that was also laced through the narrator’s voice that brought an unexpected smile to my face instead of tears. Said narrator is the main hero of this story — a depressed, disillusioned war veteran and amputee. He’d joined the army to escape his life, not out of a heartfelt need to sacrifice for his country, and the mangled body he had limped away from the desert with had left him bitter and angry at the world.
After a run in with the law, he was forced to join a ‘peer-led support group for people suffering from traumatic stress and depression’ and despite how much he wished he could escape it, it wasn’t not a choice. Everything he cared for had been stripped from him — his body, his girlfriend, his honor, his faith in himself, people, and life. He felt hopeless with nothing to live for and nothing more to lose. Constantly angry at the everything, he lashed out at everyone around him, until one girl saw through his pain and decided she was going to bring the real him back to life.
“God… you’re fucking weird,” I tell her with a grimace. Or is that a grin? “No one can possibly be that fucking right with the world.”
She just laughs at me and turns back to her books. Even though she’s not looking at me, her words are pointed and direct. “Stick with me, and I’ll make you right with it too.”
Said girl — the eternal optimist in the face of her own tragedy — showed him something he never thought possible, something he was sure had been lost forever: hope. The smallest inkling of possibility that maybe there was a way to find happiness even in the darkest, most painful of times.
The reason I made a stupid decision and came on this trip is that I’m as equally intrigued by Jillian Martel as I am repelled by her. My intrigue won out, and I agreed to this ludicrous idea of a group journey so I could be near her.
I agreed because I need to know how she does it.
How can she have such a grim future and still smile as if all is right with her world.
The book begins with and is focused on a road trip that four members of their therapy group take together — the young amuputee war veteran, the sheltered girl losing her vision, the angry girl struggling to choose between life and death, and the terminally ill teen who didn’t have any choices left. As they set out on this trip and passed state after state checking items off each of their respective bucket lists, they all learned something invaluable from each other.
Now, I’m sure a bunch of you are also wondering whether there’s actually a romance in this book and YES! There absolutely is. And because the majority of my readers are romance readers, I’ll just come out and say that there is a romantic HEA so despite the heart-ache, loss, and heavier themes explored in this book, you can hold onto that.
“Maybe you’re right where you’re supposed to be,” he says softly as he gives a slight nod over his shoulder. “I saw you and your girl together. Wouldn’t have met her unless you went to group therapy, and you wouldn’t have gone to group therapy if you hadn’t got your leg blown off, right?”
Prior to starting this book, I had no idea what to expect from it and I just let the story take me on it’s adventure. I suppose you could call it a coming of age story, but it’s much deeper than that. It’s a coming of life story. It’s brutally real, unapologetically honest, romantic, painful, beautiful, tragic, and healing. I feel like this was the book Sawyer Bennett was meant to write. She’s written so many books to date, and I’ve read and enjoyed several of them. But this one is unlike anything else she’s ever written before. It’s different. Inspiring. There’s something special about it and whether you’re a long-time fan of her books or have never read her before, this is definitely a must-read!
The story really brings to light hard questions and realities of life and death. It brought me to tears, surprised me with its beauty and broke my heart with its pain. However, the overall tone of the book isn’t heavy. At least for me, it wasn’t a book I ugly cried through even though I was brought to tears twice near the end. I will caution that both suicide and sexual abuse (in past reference only, no graphic scenes) are mentioned but much of the story is filled with a lot of heart and is focused more on learning how to truly live after the world lets you down.
“Do you still want to die?” Jillian asks…
Barb actually gives a genuine smile in return as she nods. “Every damn day.”
None of us know what to say, so silence envelopes the table.
And then… in a voice that’s barely audible, Barb adds, “But I also want to live every damn day too. I’m just not sure which I want more.”
I could go on about the messages behind the story and what I came away from it with but I think that ultimately that is something every reader needs to experience for themselves and who knows, maybe each reader will get something different out of it. Even though it takes a lot out of you to read this kind of heavier story, I can honestly say that I love reading them. I love stories that go just a little deeper, feel just a little stronger, and stay with you just a little longer as this did. I highly recommend this to everyone looking for a powerful, meaningful story that’ll truly stay with you.
Rating: 4.5+ stars! Standalone Fiction Novel (with a Romance).