Disclaimer: I wrote this review as a part of the Smart Bitches Trashy Books RITA Reader Challenge. The original post can be found here.
Whenever I hear that something has been nominated for an award, I fear that it is vastly overrated, and most of the time, I find that the fear is not unfounded, especially when it comes to books. So many times, I find that the books that get the awards are pretentious examples of what the powers that be think we should be reading rather than anything anyone would actuallywant to read. (Books like Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close are held up as the bastions of modern literature when what most people really want to read are the 50 Shades of Grayseries.)
I had hoped that the RITAs would be different, and I am glad to say that The Way Back Homedidn’t let me down. Sure, it had some problems, especially the saccharine epilogue and the plot device that was used at the end of the book to tie everything up in a nice big bow, but it was an extremely engaging read. I found myself pulling not just for Alicia and Gabe, the two main characters, but also for Kelly and Jared, whose subplot, I actually liked better than the main plotline. (As I was reading, I was hoping that they would get their own book, but having finished it, I have come to the conclusion that they won’t, which saddens me to no end.)
There were a few things that I liked about this book, but I want to first discuss what I didn’t like. First, it took a long time for Alicia and Gabe’s romance to get started. It was obvious from the first page (hell, the cover copy) that they were going to get together in the end, but for some reason Ms. Freethy felt the need to keep them apart for over 60% of the book, and then for the next 35% to have them vacillating over whether they could be together. Neither of them were willing to risk their hearts for the other because they were afraid of being hurt. It is understandable, but not to the extent that it was taken here.
The second thing that I did not like ties into the first. It seems that Ms. Freethy needed a way to get Gabe and Alicia to let down their walls and let each other in, and that came in the form of a completely unnecessary subplot involving arson and kidnapping. As soon as they realized that they wanted to be together, they had no reason not to be—other than the fact that they didn’t know how to get together. Cue big old plot device—Alicia’s PTSD stemming from the accident and the need for her to rescue her son and his friend by searching for them via river raft. Prompting these words from Gabe:
“You’re in charge…You’re going to get us where we need to go. You’re smart, and you’re tough, and that’s why I love you. Now, paddle the damn boat” (Freethy, 349).
There’s nothing like an unplanned rescue mission on the rapids to put things in perspective. What they don’t do, however, is reassure Alicia that Gabe does (1) love her and (2) want a future with her. And why should they? He has given every indication that he does not want those things. Why should she believe anything he says when everything he has said prior has been contrary to them? The fact that less than 20 pages later, she does accept them is both confusing and irritating.
Finally, I absolutely hated the epilogue, which was so saccharinely sweet that I felt myself getting a couple new cavities. Not only does it put a nice big bow on the story, but it also shows us that everything is hunky dory in River Rock and that everyone has completely gotten over all of the drama that plagued them throughout the book. Oh, and babies. Babies galore. (Side note: Why do all romance novels insist that baby=HEA?)
Despite these problems, there were a couple of things that I did like. I enjoyed the fact that every single character was three-dimensional—there wasn’t a cardboard cutout among the lot—and the way they were written makes it impossible for the reader not to sympathize with them. Case in point: Kelly. She goes through a roller coaster’s worth of ups and downs. First time we see her, she’s angry and sad and all she wants to do is escape. She doesn’t want to be in River Rock because that is where she grew up and where Brian (dead fiancé) died, and she definitely does not want to see Alicia, who she blamed for Brian’s death because everyone blamed her and it was easier for her to do the same than to ask questions. Although her subplot isn’t all that big, we see her grow into her feelings for Jared, who had always been there for her, but who she had never really looked at that way, and realize that maybe Alicia hadn’t done anything wrong.
I also liked the fact that everything (up until the epilogue) was very real. The emotions exhibited by all of the main characters (as well as the villain, who was only in one scene prior to the revelation that said character was the villain) were emotions that anyone that has suffered the way these characters did would have felt. In all of the characters, you can see the stages of grief and that not everyone goes through them at the same rate.
In the end, I would rate The Way Back Home at a B because in the end, the two things that I liked more than compensated for the things that I did not like.