Incredibly emotional. Beautiful. Unforgettable.
A piercing story about love and loss, about grievous sadness and reluctant happiness, about being broken and learning to heal.
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I wasn’t always in love with Colton Calloway; I was in love with his younger brother, Kyle, first. Kyle was my first one true love, my first in every way.
Then, one stormy August night, he died, and the person I was died with him.
Colton didn’t teach me how to live. He didn’t heal the pain. He didn’t make it okay. He taught me how to hurt, how to not be okay, and, eventually, how to let go.
“This book is for anyone who has ever lost a loved one, for anyone who has woken up crying and gone to bed the same way, for anyone who has had to learn that it’s okay to be not okay. Surviving isn’t strength, it’s continuing to breathe one day at a time; strength is learning to live despite the pain.”
The book’s dedication succinctly captures this emotionally charged story. Every now and then you come across a story that seeps into your heart, your soul, your thoughts. A story you know you won’t forget. One that replays over and over in your mind. A story so powerful that it shatters you and slowly puts you back together in a way that you remain changed. This is one of those stories. Absolutely beautiful. A story brimming with feeling, weeping with heartache, swaying to silent music as you grasp onto an unwavering hope when everything seemed thoroughly hopeless. I was simply blown away.
“I wasn’t always in love with Colton Calloway; I was in love with his younger brother, Kyle, first. Kyle was my first one true love, my first in any way.”
And thus the story beings to unfurl. Kyle Calloway and Nell Hawthorne grew up together. They were inseparable best friends. One day, sixteen-year-old Nell gets asked out by a classmate, and Kyle storms off incensed. Triggering new emotions, they both realize that they have to be together, that they couldn’t possibly be with anyone else… they were meant for each other from the very beginning.
“Suddenly Kyle was someone else, someone different. Not the little boy I’d grown up with, but a young man with his features, his eyes, his strong jawline, but an intense, grown up, almost hungry gaze.”
I loved reading about the maladroitness of first love… the inexperience, the trepidation, the insecurity and the feverish excitement of a relationship being defined by the thrill of many firsts. It was wonderful to see them fall in love and experience all those special first moments together. And then fast forward, they’re 18-years old and they’re together, happy. And just as their relationship readies to take the next step…
“Then, one stormy August night, he died, and the person I was died with him.”
My heart was crushed as tears streamed down my face. I knew this was coming, but it was nonetheless grueling to read. Admittedly, knowing what would come, I tried to avoid getting “too attached” to Kyle. In the end, however, I couldn’t help but succumb to the sweetness and rightness of the two of them together. I felt incredibly sad and heavyhearted as I internalized the full weight of grief.
And then we realize Nell blames herself for Kyle’s death. A perception that breaks her.
“I wanted nothing more than to climb into the box with him and quit breathing, find him in whatever came after life.”
Distraught, she runs out of the funeral home to sit by a tree, when suddenly…
“I felt a warmth descend over my shoulders, soft silk of a suit coat. I pushed away from the tree and turned to see a pair of sapphirine eyes gazing at me, stunning, piercing, breathtakingly blue. The face was haunting, familiar, chiseled and achingly beautiful like Kyle, but more rugged. Older, harder. Rougher. Less perfect, less statuesque. Longish, shaggy black hair, messy and thick and lustrous and raven-black. Colton. Kyle’s brother.”
Colton is radically different from Kyle. Rough, big, tattooed, callused hands, “too hard around the edges” yet kind and deep. There’s an unexpected pull between them, beneath the weight of their grief, and in a moment of vulnerability, they kiss. Nell hadn’t seen Colton in years. He’s the black sheep of the family who is never around. This moment is simultaneously powerful and shocking. Nell can’t believe that happened and she runs from him… from all of it.
Two years later, Nell finds herself in New York and hears a haunting and familiar voice, strumming a guitar in Central Park. Both trying to survive, both with Kyle’s memory ever-present. This second phase in the story chronicles the complicated journey that these two very broken people embark on to understand and heal each other.
“Colton didn’t teach me how to live. He didn’t heal the pain. He didn’t make it okay. He taught me how to hurt, how to not be okay, and, eventually, how to let go.”
It’s a beautiful and intricate story. I love that they are both deeply flawed, deeply complex characters scarred by the pain of their pasts, their own personal tragedies and challenges. Colton realizes that Nell has been handling her grief in some very unhealthy ways and Nell realizes there is so much more to Colton than she ever realized. Colton has had an exceptionally hard upbringing, “forced” to leave home at seventeen only to arrive in New York without money, food or a place to stay. His brutal beginning sets him on a cruel course that forges who he becomes and cements the rocky foundation where his hurt resides. He hates to see Nell hurt, but he falls in love with her, with how she sees him, for how special she recognizes him to be.
I love that they don’t try to fix each other, rather, they are simply there to love the other, heart and soul.
“You’re a lot of things, Nell Hawthorne. You’re complex. You’re cute. You’re lovely. You’re funny. You’re strong. You’re beautiful… You’re tortured. You’re hurting. You’re amazing. You’re talented. You’re sexy as fuck.”
And so the pull between them intensifies. Not only did I enjoy reading how they fell in love, but I loved reading the scorching moments of passion between them. Truth be told, I thought the sex scenes were exceptionally written.
Another element I absolutely LOVED about this book was the music. I would say that music is almost another central character. The way the music weaved through the story line made it so much more powerful. I relished the moments where they sang together. It’s really magical to read and I think in a big way, music helped them heal too.
“I’m not just falling in love with you, Nell. I’m falling into you. You’re an ocean, and I’m falling in, drowning in the depths of who you are. Like you said, it’s scary in a way, but it’s also the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced. YOU are the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Overall, this really is a complex story of two broken souls trying to find themselves. Through alternating Nell and Colton POVs, I discovered more about each character and what they’re feeling. The story evoked a wide range of emotions in me. I loved every single moment. I highlighted so many powerful quotes in this book because it was just that good. It’s a book filled with emotion and heartache and love. I can’t recommend this book enough.
“You don’t ever really let go, though. You don’t stop. You don’t stop hurting, you don’t stop loving. It doesn’t go away, you just keep living and eventually shit gets pushed into the background of your life so it’s not consuming you every day. And then one day, you know you’re okay.”
Jasinda Wilder is a Michigan native with a penchant for titillating tales about sexy men and strong women. When she’s not writing, she’s probably shopping, baking, or reading. Some of her favorite authors include Nora Roberts, JR Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Liliana Hart and Bella Andre. She loves to travel and some of her favorite vacations spots are Las Vegas, NYC and Toledo, Ohio. You can often find Jasinda drinking sweet red wine with frozen berries and eating a cupcake.