I was only a year old when Rick Springfield’s classic ‘Jessie’s Girl‘ was released, but I enjoyed the song when I was a teenager, and odds are you’re familiar with it as well, the story-set-to-music about a man who’s in love with his good friend’s girlfriend (although today was the first time I’ve ever seen the video. The feathered 80’s hair! The aggressive style of dancing that seems to appear in so many videos from that era! All we’re missing is a keytar and some blinding neon…). So when Tara September contacted me to offer me a review copy of her novel, Jesse’s Girl (independently published, 2019), I was in. A romance novel would be perfect to balance out some of the heavier stuff I’ve been reading lately.
From the moment he met her seven years ago, Reade has wanted Gwen. Unfortunately, Gwen is Jesse’s girl- and Jesse Clark isn’t just some random guy, he’s Reade’s lifelong frenemy, as well as a senator who’s been tapped as the next VP pick. Yikes. The best Reade has been able to do has been to stay in their small Texas town in order to be near Gwen and her daughter Maddie (who is also Reade’s goddaughter). But things are changing in a big, scandalous, splashed-all-over-the-news kind of way. Senator Clark has run off to Mexico with his intern, embezzling funds and draining the family bank account before he left, leaving Gwen high and dry, homeless and with no way to support herself and Maddie. Enter Reade, offering up his place to stay. Gwen agrees, but only on a temporary basis. She’s going to do whatever she has to to stand on her own two feet.
In this mix of Forced Proximity and Innocent Cohabitation tropes, the tension between Reade and Gwen grows, and they can’t seem to help ending up in some *ahem* hands-on situations. All Reade wants is to make Gwen his. Could it be possible that she’s feeling the same way?
Jesse’s Girl is well-written and fun, making for a mostly enjoyable read that did indeed counter the more depressing stuff I’ve been reading lately, so I definitely appreciated it for that. Though it’s not without its issues, I’ll start with what worked.
A book based on a song? FUN. If you know of other books like this, hit me up, because I’m loving the concept.
Reade’s genuine affection for Maddie, Gwen’s daughter, is adorable. Even though Maddie is only Reade’s goddaughter and not his biological daughter, he thinks of her and cares for her as if she’s his own even before she and Gwen move in; afterwards, he enjoys attending her ball games and helping her with homework. Emotionally, this felt deeply satisfying and provided some necessary depth to Reade’s character.
Jesse, as both a person and a politician, is smarmy and unctuous and awful, Gross with a Capital G. He’s over the top, but he’s done well, and I had no problems believing in any aspect of his personality whatsoever, especially given some of the primordial ooze sludging through DC these days. Without spoiling the ending, I found Jesse’s resolution both realistic and plausible, and I’m sure you will too. *heaves huge sigh*
Now. What didn’t quite work for me:
Reade as a character is more than a little obsessive in his thoughts, and occasionally his actions. He has a framed picture of Gwen in his apartment, and while Gwen never learns about it, I gave this a lot of side-eye. I would’ve accepted a stash of cell phone pics that he saved from her social media accounts without a second thought, but a framed picture implies a level of effort that made me uncomfortable. Gwen takes up almost all of the real estate in his brain, and his thoughts stray to the physical far too often, even when such thoughts aren’t appropriate for the moment. His constant preoccupation with Gwen borders excessive and eventually became a little tiresome to read. More wistful longing and less fixation on the current state of blood flow to his groin would have deepened my sympathies for his unrequited passion.
Gwen occasionally drifts toward the naive, and one scene in particular had me squinting at my kindle. Reade, who is a lawyer, meets with a client in a seedy dive bar (incidentally named Double D’s Breastaurant) off the side of the highway . The client, Tad, who chose the location, is the thrice-divorced only son of a rich Texas oil man, and Reade is horrified to find that the spandex-clad waitress Tad’s trying to grope is none other than Gwen. During their confrontation later that night, Reade questions whether Gwen is worried about people recognizing her there as Senator Clark’s jilted wife. She responds, “I was worried about that at first, but the men that go in there aren’t up on the latest political affairs, and I hardly look like a senator’s wife in this outfit and caked-on makeup.”
Okay. So I can possibly buy that second part, but what Gwen seems to have conveniently forgotten in that moment is that the customer who had been groping her earlier that day was the son of a rich Texas oil man, and I have a hard time buying that anyone involved in the oil industry isn’t 100% marinating themselves in both state and national politics. Environmental laws, fracking, taxes, oil prices, lobbying, safety regulations (and deregulation), all of these and more are political by nature, and if this is Tad’s family business (and he’s the only son), politics absolutely are his bag, baby, and he was in the bar. While I admire Gwen for doing what she felt was necessary to provide for her daughter, having been an involved senator’s wife in an oil state, her lack of shrewdness towards the realities of politics here felt out of place.
Although the reader is immediately tossed into the deep end when it comes to Reade’s infatuation, when Gwen’s affections turn toward Reade, they seem to come out of nowhere though she claims they go way back. I was expecting more of a gradual buildup on her part, especially due to the fact that they keep ending up engaged in awkwardly timed gropefests, so her admission of longtime attraction threw me a bit.
So while I definitely had a few issues with it. overall, I enjoyed Jesse’s Girl. If I were into grading books like schoolwork, I’d give it a B-. Now, if anyone can tell me how to get that song out of my head, I’d be much obliged (the first person to suggest I listen to Baby Shark will receive one free slap upside the head, doo doo doo doo doo doo).
Thanks to Tara September for providing me with a copy of Jesse’s Girl to read and review!