I don’t know what it is about this book, but it made me cry.
Scratch that. I know exactly what it is about this book that made me cry: Nina Wentworth.
Her entire life has been centered around taking care of someone, whether her flakey mother, her self-centered sister, or her supportive boss. The roof needs replacing? Nina will wipe out her savings to pay for it. Her sister needs to go to college? Nina not only will pay for it, she also will make sure Averil gets off of Blackberry Island and pursue her dreams. Her boyfriend wants her to come with him to medical school?
Even then, though, Nina was taking care of someone. By sacrificing her love life, she was able to put Averil through college and keep a close eye on mother Bonnie’s questionable decisions.
The problem with being a caretaker is that you don’t know when – much less how – to quit the gig.
Now thirty, Nina has accepted her lot in life. She still lives with her mother (and her mother’s girlfriend), and she still assumes responsibility for all around her. She is not a martyr, though. It’s worse than that. Nina doesn’t believe she deserves anything else.
But within a few days, her dull, unsatisfactory life is thrown into a blender. First, she meets Kyle, a 26-year-old Air Force pilot who literally catches her off her feet. He’s come to find her, the woman who once was his sister’s babysitter. Kyle has nursed a crush on Nina for fourteen years, and he is determined to woo her. He makes his intentions quite clear; he’s in town for four months, and he’d enjoy nothing more than “connecting” with the babysitter.
And by “connect,” you know exactly what I mean.
At first resistant, Nina allows herself to be swept out of Bonnie’s home and into Kyle’s bed. And not a moment too soon, considering Averil has left her husband in California and come back home to Blackberry Island. With a dog.
Typical Averil, Nina thinks, accusing her sister of continuing to act in her own self-interests. The problem is that Averil isn’t quite sure what her self-interests are. Her husband accuses her of needing Nina’s advice and guidance, yet within five minutes of being in Nina’s company, the two sisters are bickering, reverting back to their childhoods. Averil thinks Nina is a control freak, whereas Nina thinks Averil refuses to take responsibility for her own decisions.
Then there is the biggest upheaval of all: Dylan, her high school boyfriend – the one who broke her heart when he left for college – is back, joining his father’s medical practice.
As Nina attempts to manage the various players in her drama, she receives no help from her mother or sister. Happy to assist with the sexy times is good old Kyle, who at least provides some pleasurable diversions. Nina can’t quite figure out what Dylan wants, though. He’s back, but is it just for his father? Or could it be for her, too?
I loved Nina. Yes, she’s obstinate and a bit of a know-it-all, and, yes, she’s too busy managing everyone else’s life to see that her own needs it just as much, but she’s so real. She worries about her tummy and her thighs, she tries to convince herself that she is content with her life, and she doesn’t want her younger, more vivacious sister to get too close to her friends lest they prefer Averil’s company to hers.
When Nina looks at her life and sees it for what it is – a woman who was forced at a young age to become the mother to both Bonnie and Averil – it is heartbreaking. As Averil observes, Nina is in a lose-lose situation. Averil and Bonnie rely on her to take care of things, yet when she does, they are never satisfied.
Meanwhile, Averil is stuck as well. She loves her husband, but something is missing from her life. The problem is that she can’t figure out what it is.
These two sisters – and their mother – have a way to go to sort themselves out, and thankfully Mallery takes us along. As much as I enjoyed Nina, though, I loathed Bonnie. She is nothing short of a terrible mother who uses the excuse that she had Nina at sixteen as a means of absolving her from adulthood and responsibility. Averil isn’t much better. She needs Nina’s interference as much as she resents it if for no other reason than when something goes wrong, Averil has someone to blame. Why her husband sticks with her is a mystery.
I enjoyed this book tremendously, largely because Mallery avoids turning Blackberry Island into a kitschy den of eccentricity. As flighty as Bonnie is, she’s also quite real. Everyone we meet is. As for the romances, they are fun more than passionate. There are some sexy times, but they are not explicit or wildly detailed at all. I’ve read more graphic headboard rockin’ in YA books.
Read, enjoy, and maybe shed a tear or two for Nina. She deserves someone on her side.