In 1960, a tragic death in the family calls young Sarah Browning back from college to her Appalachian homestead. Unable to return to school and finish her degree, she finds herself facing a future that isn’t what she’d planned. Lost and grieving, she wanders onto her reclusive neighbor’s property where she stumbles across the all-too-attractive Owen Campbell, a man hiding secrets she’d only ever thought were legend.
Owen Campbell was raised on the folklore of Eastern Kentucky, tales of men and women with magical abilities from shape-shifting to healing powers. Rejected by those he loves because of his own abilities, he isolates himself from the world. When he meets Sarah, he’s faced with the tough decision of whether to let her in or stay hidden away to keep his heart safe.
This book is one of the many reasons that I love websites like NetGalley. I was just randomly checking out the new releases one day when I stumbled across it.
Intriguing title: check
Beautiful cover: check
Interesting blurb: check
A part of me wondered what I would be getting myself into if I requested it:
“Hmmm, this sounds a little like an adult version of Beauty and the Beast. You’ve had some disappointments after reading books with so few reviews lately, better hold off for a little while. Play it safe, Litchick.”
Another, lesser evolved, part of me shouted back in a horrific imitation of a German accent:
“Who cares?! Hit zee requesht button!!!”
That little Id-gremlin won. And I’m so, so happy she did.
You see, I have a method to reviewing. I take notes. Lots and lots and lots of notes. I write down everything I loved, hated and lol’d at while reading a book. I also go into great detail about the characters, content and writing style. Sometimes (for obvious reasons) these notes can extend well over six Word Document pages, so you can understand that it’s a rare thing when a book can pull me in so completely that I forget about my meticulous (some might say retentive) little habit.
This book made me forget.
This is not just a beautiful and sometimes heartbreaking love story. This is not just about a young woman’s coming of age. This is not just a study on the harshness of rural life in a small town. This is not just a book with some paranormal elements. It’s all of those things and so, so much more.
I blame not only the story for my lack of notes but the writing itself. It’s both beautiful and enthralling. Haddix has this simplistically elegant way of describing people and places with just a single sentence. That sentence is all you need to have a detailed and fully formed picture in your mind of what she’s depicted. I could fill an entire page with quotes but I’ll restrain myself. Here is one of my favorite examples instead:
“The fireflies were out in full force, their leisurely movements across the yard looking like nothing less than a twinkling, living blanket crossing the landscape.”
Not only is the writing subtle but unless you pay close attention you might miss the fact that this story is set in the 1950s. Some other readers have expressed annoyance that the time period wasn’t better defined as there weren’t many glaringly obvious descriptions of music, clothing, cars, etc, etc. I wasn’t annoyed. I thought it was really refreshing that Haddix mostly let the lack of modern conveniences speak for themselves. This is rural Kentucky after all and the story takes place in a semi-mountainous farming community. Back then, things like fashion and current music were late to arrive to places that had just recently built their first middle school so it’s more accurate that they wouldn’t be in the forefront of the characters’ minds.
Speaking of the main characters, I loved them. I really, truly loved them.
From the very first page I was on Sarah’s side and I continued to be until the very end. She’s a calm, intelligent, rational young woman with a well-rounded sense of humor and a sort of childlike curiosity. And she can really stand up for herself when she needs to.
She’s just so…likeable.
I know that sounds a little silly but lately so many main characters in the books I’ve been reading have, at one point or another, gotten on my last nerve. Not Sarah. Her sheer likeability was a breath of fresh air.
Then there’s the male lead, Owen. Oh. My. GOD. He is…he’s…he’s pretty much one of my favorite love interests EVER. He calls her mother ma’am, asks to kiss her, looks out for her well-being without being some overbearing hyper-dominant alpha and is just…is just…I mean he’s completely…!!!
S-s-sorry, wh-what happened?
Oh right, book review. Owen. Mmmmmm….Owen…nom nom nom nom n-
I immediately found myself intrigued by him. He’s mysterious, reclusive, brilliant, handsome and a shifter to boot. I loved what Haddix did with the shifters in this story. They’re not bound to just one form like the popular theme that runs in most paranormal books. Sometimes they can take multiple forms and the one they choose seems to be related to the mood they’re in. If they’re angry, they become a wolf, calm, a deer. They’re not ruled by instincts or primal urges, they’re not driven to near madness with bloodlust or the need to mate. They’re just a magical and intriguing anomaly.
And then there’s the romance between Owen (view spoiler)and Sarah. It was one of the most realistic I’ve come across. When you first meet them they’re strangers and you’re witness to their first meeting, their first shy smiles and their first kiss (among other things…heh heh). I loved watching them fall in love. It was…GAH! I’ve run out of words. Time for a frigging happy dance!!!
Okay, sorry. The Id took over again.
What’s left to say? Oh the support cast! There were no one dimensional characters here. Even the ones I disliked I found myself at one time or another feeling sorry for. (Except for the one that I sincerely hope is burning in the lowest levels of hell while being subjected to the most depraved sorts of torture the devil himself can come up with).
I especially liked Sarah’s mother. She was thoughtful, loving, gave great advice to her children and had a propensity for laughing at inappropriate moments. Sarah’s family dynamic seemed as realistic as her relationship with Owen. At times it was awkward, at times infuriating and yet at others sweet and sentimental.
Really, you should just read this book. It’s incredible. It made me laugh out loud, grin for so long my face hurt, rage out in defense of the characters mistreatment and even craugh. Granted I’d had two rum and cokes when I got to the scene that caused said weepiness mixed with semi-hysterical laughter but I’m pretty sure I would have teared up regardless!
Even though I received a digital book for review I’ll be buying the paperback because I need to see it sitting on my bookshelves. I need to have it in my greedy little hands and re-read it to my heart’s content.