Best friends Marissa and Julia have known each other since they were fourteen. They navigated high school together and made plans for the future, moving to New York together to realize their dreams. And then one day Julia is hit by a cab and suffers a brain injury, changing her personality and the very fabric of Marissa and Julia's friendship. For years Marissa has been the friend in the background, compliant and insecure, content to let Julia shine. But with Julia's abrupt personality change, Marissa has to come out of the shadows and learn to confidently stand on her own two feet without the comfortable buffer of Julia in front of her.
As Marissa copes with her changed relationship with Julia, now half a continent away back living in Ann Arbor with her parents, she is also at a crossroads with her boyfriend Dave and at her magazine editor job. But while she is trying to decide where her future lies, Julia is fixated on the past, reconnecting with Nathan, the boyfriend she asked Marissa to give up for the sake of their friendship so many years ago. This only complicates Marissa's present and she can't help wondering if Nathan is the one that got away even as her anger at Julia's interference mounts.
As much as this is a book about friendship, it is even more about taking charge of your own life and becoming confident, embracing happiness, and accepting change. Marissa's character undergoes a sea change, forced to confront her own hopes and dreams by the potentially permanent changes in Julia. She learns to advocate for herself and to hold onto what really matters, becoming less self-effacing and more self-reliant. Julia, as a character, is present far less than you might expect although Marissa thinks of her often, running decisions past her internal Julia in lieu of actually having her friend present and available.
Since Julia is hit by the cab within the first few pages of the book, the only evidence we have of Marissa and Julia's friendship prior to the accident are Marissa's recollections. And quite honestly, her memories make it rather difficult to like Julia, who comes off as manipulative, controlling, and selfish. And I suspect that we are not supposed to dislike Julia. So the deep and loyal friendship the novel is predicated on falls a bit flat although Marissa's growth still comes off as genuine and earned. Pagan's research into traumatic brain injury is well integrated into the storyline and I personally found the information on swans not having learned "the art of forgetting," holding lifelong grudges, to be fascinating. A very quick read with an abrupt and easy ending, this would keep you pleasantly occupied for a day at the pool.
For more information about Camille Noe Pagan and the book visit her webpage.
Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.