In Ruby Lang’s Clean Breaks, two old friends reconnect after both have had big changes happen in their lives. As they navigate their new realities, they find a deeper connection than they could have imagined. While the heroine is a bit prickly, the overall story is charming and grounded. A second-chance romance (of sorts), with a redemption twist, Clean Breaks is an enjoyable read and fans of contemporary romance should find quite a lot to like.
Sarah Soon’s entire sense of self was turned upside down when she was diagnosed with cancer. She was so used to being completely in control that to be ravaged by a disease that left her helpless wrecked her. Now in remission but still rebuilding her identity, she reconnects with her brother’s best friend from high school, Jake Li. A romantic relationship is just about the last thing she thinks she needs, but she can’t deny the growing bond between them.
Sarah and Jake pretty much grew up together. Sarah’s parents are from China and Jake’s from Taiwan, but their school and neighborhood were mostly white. It’s implied that one of the bases of their tenuous friendship was the commonality of having strict parents with specific expectations that their other classmates could not understand. The other base being, of course, Jake’s friendship with Sarah’s brother. Sarah and Jake haven’t seen each other in years when they run into each other at the start of the story.
Jake is taken aback to find out that Sarah is estranged from her family, so much so that none of them visited her in the hospital when she was sick. He knew they were strict, but this feels out of character to him. As they unpack her relationship with her family and their pasts, their bond continues to grow. Jake’s always been kinda into Sarah, so we’re told, but she was off limits because she was his friend’s sister. Now that they’re adults and he’s seeing another side to her, his attraction strengthens quickly. Mix in the fact that he recently got divorced, and Jake is ready to pursue her.
One of the things I love about second-chance romances is that the characters don’t have to spend time with the get-to-know-you stuff. We, as readers, get a taste of the harder relationship questions; what does life really look like for these two, how do we know it is gonna work this time when it didn’t before, what is commitment to these two people? For these two in particular, the baggage is heavy. Not only were they not ever in a romantic relationship, but Sarah places a lot of blame at Jake’s feet for the incident that started her estrangement with her parents.
Back in high school, Sarah was caught with a boy with her shirt off. Jake’s father, the local minister, decided to use her as example of moral behavior (i.e he slut-shamed her) and Jake didn’t defend her to anyone. Sarah’s always felt that he knew her well enough to stick up for her, to say that wasn’t like her, and to encourage his father to keep things quiet. Since he did none of those things, Sarah’s feeling of betrayal has festered for years.
Speaking of Sarah’s feelings, she’s a prickly one, y’all. Where Jake is quite calm and easy going, Sarah is harder to get a read on. I’m not someone who is particularly fond of reading about grudges or able to sympathize with stubborn characters, so Sarah was a challenge for me. I can see why Jake is into her and why they work as a couple, I just didn’t particularly enjoy spending time with her.
This is my first book by Ms. Lang and I am sure it will not be my last. While I didn’t love Sarah, I really enjoyed the sparkling dialogue, the sense of place, and the feeling that the characters were real people. Her generous descriptions of Jake’s sexy forearms did not hurt the cause either!