Roxanne St. Claire
November 2012, Contemporary Romance
Forever, $7.99, 448 pages, Amazon ASIN 1455508276
Can you ever forgive an abuser? This is a pretty heavy question, not one usually broached in romance novels. Usually they adhere to the conventional wisdom of never trusting or forgiving anyone who has ever hit you. But Roxanne St. Claire takes an honest, unflinching look beyond the surface of abuse in her new contemporary, Barefoot in the Rain.
When Jocelyn Bloom and Will Palmer were in high school, they were each other's sanctuary -- he from the pressures of an overbearing father pushing him to succeed on the baseball field, she from her father who was physically abusive to her mother. On their last night together before leaving for college, they almost have sex but are interrupted by Jocelyn's father, who threatens to kill Will and takes his anger out on Jocelyn. Fifteen years later, they haven't spoken since that night but never stopped thinking about each other.
Now, Jocelyn is back in Barefoot Bay after all those years, this time to escape the paparazzi after one of her movie star life coaching clients names her as the "other woman" in an explosive divorce that creates a tabloid frenzy. She does not expect to find Will caring for her father, now suffering with Alzheimer's and totally lacking of memories of Jocelyn, or of what he did to her or her mother. He thinks Will is his son and Jocelyn a star from one of his favorite HGTV reality shows. Instead of simply hiding out at her friend's resort, Jocelyn finds herself facing Will and her father after all those years.
This book struck a chord I didn't expect. Not because I have been directly affected by Alzheimer's, but because I work with ex-offenders. Every day I am faced with the question, "Can people change?" while working with people who did terrible things in a different stage of their lives. I am constantly challenged to reconcile the person sitting in front of me with the person they once were, a challenge that Will and Jocelyn both face throughout the novel. There is no answer, at least not one that I've found -- and I'm sure some people will disagree rather vehemently with the end of the book, but I, for one, appreciated the journey and where they ended up.
The Alzheimer's adds a unique twist to the quandary of forgiveness, as Jocelyn's father has no recollection of his crimes. It complicates things in a really interesting way. I thought both Will and Jocelyn's perspectives are understandable and believable. I don't know much about Alzheimer's, but I thought the depiction of the disease was realistic and heartbreaking.
As far as Will and Jocelyn's relationship is concerned, I really enjoyed them together. I thought things picked back up rather quickly after fifteen years apart, though; that's a long time, and there should have been more of a gulf. Aside from that, though, they had realistic hesitations and hopes, and great chemistry together. Jocelyn was pretty traumatized by that night, and it has affected her in a lot of ways, some of which were unlikely but still believable. There is a great twist at the end that reveals a lot about Jocelyn, and as much as it surprised me it made perfect sense. It brought the novel around full-circle, and I really enjoyed that.
This book stayed with me even when I had to put it down. It can challenge the reader and make her think, which is a quality I greatly enjoy in a book. Barefoot in the Rain is just short of being a DIK, but it came damn close. I have to admire Ms. St. Claire for taking risks with this novel. They paid off.
-- Jane Granville
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