fiction

Love and Other Words- Christina Lauren

The final task I had to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2019 Reading Challenge was three books by the same author. While, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t often binge-read books by the same author (I’m more of a slow, savoring, dole-it-out-bit-by-bit kind of gal), Christina Lauren is an exception for me. I fell in love with them when I read Dating You/Hating You a few years back, and they’ve been front-and-center on my radar ever since. This year, I read (and loved!) My Favorite Half-Night Stand and followed that up days later with Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. To round out my list of three books, I chose Love and Other Words (Gallery Books, 2018), the duo’s first foray into women’s fiction.

When Macy’s mom dies when Macy is only 10, she leaves behind a list of advice that will help her husband raise their daughter. One of these pieces of advice prompts him to buy a mildewy vacation house in California wine country, and it’s there that Macy meets Elliot, the gangly, awkward, bookish boy next door who will become her everything. The two forge a friendship based on literature and honesty, and Macy finds Elliot is the one person she can just be with. He doesn’t act weird because her mom died, and while he doesn’t always know exactly what to say, he always knows exactly how to listen. As they grow and mature, what started out as friendship shifts into something stronger, something they both understand is timeless, but the reader is already privy to the truth: thanks to Macy’s narration and the alternating timelines, we know that as an adult, Macy, now a doctor and deeply hurt, hasn’t seen or spoken to Elliot in eleven years, and she’s engaged to someone else.

Love and Other Words examines how a friendship can blossom into love and then fall to pieces before either party has a chance to understand why or how, and the aftermath of such a painful destruction. For a story that’s abundant with grief in each of the two timelines, Christina Lauren still manages to imbue the story with a sense of hope, healing, discovering the means in oneself to let go of the past and fall in love with life- and with someone else- once again.

This was a deep, lovely read. Macy and Elliot as teenagers are beyond adorable- Elliot is the boy next door every book nerd wishes they had when they were younger. The two spend their days holed up in Macy’s library, reading quietly and sharing books, and nothing would have made me happier as a teenager to have a friend like that (sadly, I read alone on my front porch and in my room; none of the boys that lived near me were readers). Their awkward-but-brutally honest conversations are both funny and charming, and multiple times I laughed out loud at their blundering attempts at more mature discussion. Take, for example, the following dialogue:

“Why are you staring at me?” he asked.
“I was…not.”
He let out a short, dry sound of disbelief. “Okay.” Stretching his neck, he looked down. “You’re still staring.”
“I’m just wondering how it works,” I asked.
“How
what works?”
“When you…” I made a telling gesture with my hand. “With guys and the…you know?”
He raised his eyebrows, waiting. I could see the moment he knew what I was talking about. His pupils dilated so fast his eyes looked black.
“You’re asking me how
dicks work?”

Even if you weren’t that curious as a teenager, how amazing would it have been to have a friendship that comfortable, where you could be that open with each other? Christina Lauren has (have? I’m never sure what verb form one uses with a writing duo. Third person singular? Plural? Possibly English is just stupid for this task) a gift for writing strong female/male friendships that confront any sexual tension in engaging and believable ways. Macy and Elliot are fine examples of this, but this has rung true for all of the couples and platonic friends in all of their books that I’ve read.

Adult Macy is driven by her work and closed off to deep emotion, something that becomes more understandable and heartbreaking as the reader learns more of her backstory. The one issue I have with this story is the speed at which the ending comes. There’s a major revelation towards the end, one that makes everything Macy has been through and done make sense, and it’s something that I think would have required more time for Elliot to process than he actually took. There would have been some strong emotions to work through, particularly from a character who feels things so deeply as Elliot does, and so I was left feeling as though I were being shoved out the door after having attended a warm party with friends.

Despite that, Love and Other Words is a deeply heartfelt story of two people with a once-enviable friendship who fall in love, lose everything in an instant, and find each other years later. It’s grieving, it’s pain, it’s self-awareness and learning and coming back to a place of honesty after far too much time away. It fits in well with the other Christina Lauren novels I’ve read; while it lacks their usual dual narrative (something I always enjoy), the alternating timeline by a single narrator gives the book a similar feel. I so enjoyed reading this book, just like everything else I’ve read from this amazing duo. And with that, I’ve completed the 2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge! Yay me!

Is there an author that you’ll read pretty much anything they write? Christina Lauren is one of those authors for me; who are yours?

Visit Christina Lauren’s website here.

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