Abby and Lauren are best friends and college roommates. Lauren and Ryan are soulmates and deeply in love. They've never had a problem including Abby in their warmth and happiness, so secure are they in their couplehood. But when Lauren leaves after graduation for a six month course taking photographs of waterfalls around the world instead of staying with Ryan, something changes. Flash forward seventeen years. Ryan and Abby are married with a daughter. Ryan is a successful high school coach, revered by the mostly disadvantaged boys he coaches to glory. Abby is a prisoner of her anxiety and depression, holding tight to a secret she's never revealed to Ryan, suffering in the depths of her own self-hatred. And Juliana is a self-sufficient teenager in love with her dad's star player, a boy whose father and older brothers are serious criminals. Lauren is a best selling author who writes romances under a pseudonym and she's finally coming back to North Carolina to face the painful past she's still holding in her heart.
Ryan's team is making a run for States just as Abby breaks down badly and agrees to be admitted to a residential mental health hospital in the mountains. As if worrying about his wife isn't enough, EJ, the star of the team and Juliana's boyfriend, flees from the police, who want to question him about a major theft, and Lauren is about to reappear in his life. Abby has a lot of hard work and introspection in front of her in her program and she must look at her relationship with Ryan and the truth of their history, her love for Juliana and the ways she's been an absent mother, and how she betrayed her best friend so many years ago. Fixing all of the things wrong in her life, including her own reactions and feelings and teasing out the difference between love and loyalty, won't be easy.
The novel is told in first person by the four major characters: Abby, Ryan, Juliana, and Lauren. Each of them shares their innermost feelings and desires as they tell their stories, present and past. None of them have distinctive voices though, making each section sound the same. And to be honest, I didn't much like any of them so spending so much time in their heads was not rewarding. The prose was excessively wordy and it didn't help that the obligation felt by the characters extended to the reader. They built lives out of obligation, I finished the book out of the same. Often set in Charlotte, NC, the city as described does not feel like the Charlotte I live in at all. And the idea that Ryan and Lauren still love each other so deeply and purely after seventeen years, without taking into consideration how their experiences and life has changed them rings false. The parallel of young intense, forever love between Ryan and Lauren and between Juliana and EJ is a bit heavy handed and quite honestly, the high school love story wasn't all that engaging to me. Weinstein has drawn an intensely introspective and psychological portrait of the way in which one family member's mental illness takes over and forms each person in the family combined with the story of soul mates and an all encompassing love but the major halves of the story exist together a bit uneasily. And the martyrdom of the ending, although by all rights it could not have ended any other way, was the capper on a story I was already struggling with. Many other people seem to have really been touched by this novel so readers who appreciate troubled family tales, stories of the impact of mental illness, or novels about truth and lies and friendship should read it and make up their own minds.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.