By Maureen Lee Lenker
April 09, 2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Simon & Schuster

Best-selling romance author Christina Lauren (the combined pen name of Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings) has categorized her latest release as her first women’s fiction novel. But fans of her romances need not worry. While the book is slightly more tragic than Lauren’s previous works, all of the hallmarks that have endeared her to fans remain. From Lauren’s wit to her love of wordplay and literature to swoony love scenes to heroines who learn to set aside their own self-doubts and undergo a crucial journey of self-love alongside their romantic ones, it’s comforting to find oneself back in familiar territory.

The book flits between the past and the present to tell the story of Macy Sorensen and Elliott Petropoulos, teenage best friends who become something more. Ten years ago, Macy cut off all contact with Elliott after a misunderstanding and tragedy tore them apart. When Macy suddenly bumps into Elliott in a coffee shop, she begins to question everything about her carefully ordered life and works to break down the emotional walls she’s built around herself in the intervening years. Lauren writes movingly of grief — Macy’s as a teenage girl in the immediate aftermath of her mother’s death, as well as a longer-lasting type of loss, an ache that persists like a permanent bruise. She expertly captures the lengths we’ll go to in order to avoid pressing on that bruise while eventually exploring why it must be faced to reach a deeper sense of peace and healing.

Macy and Elliott’s mutual love of words and literature is intoxicating, a familiar obsession for any bibliophile while also one that captures the peculiar individual eccentricities of book lovers. If you have a library fetish like this reviewer, the private book closet in a cabin Lauren crafts for her characters will leave you breathless with envy. Secrets and tragedy loom large over the story, and the novel falters in its reveal, veering a bit into afterschool special territory in some of its final moments. Still, Lauren writes of the bittersweet pangs of love and loss with piercing clarity, and delivers a resoundingly life-affirming tale of what it takes to claw one’s way to necessary healing, both romantically and personally. B+