I suppose we’ve all done it at least once. You’re answering an interview question and you’re slightly nervous and you realize you’re babbling and you’ve completely forgotten the question. Or you commit a verbal faux pas and start chattering away in an effort to cover it up. Or you’re in the middle of a great story and then somehow forget the point and it appears you’ve been babbling nonsense because you can’t complete your thought. What all these things have in common is that they could be immensely improved if you could just make yourself Stop! A really nice book can be ruined in this same fashion, as is the case with Emerald City, a sugary romance with a secretly-paranormal hero.
Olivia has been completely demoralized by her difficult life. Her father left her and her mother when Olivia was five to go and be with his “other family”. She never heard from him again, and she and her mother sank immediately into poverty. Ostracized in school for being poor and underfed, Olivia finally made some good progress when she reached high school and could work to help out. She made a friend, dated some, and eventually got her own apartment. But it all fell apart when she found her mother dead from suicide. Now, a year later, Olivia drifts from her apartment to work and back again, never speaking, never reaching out, always completely alone, unable to sleep, until one day a small cruelty finally breaks her completely. In an effort to stop the emotional pain, Olivia swallows a bottle of valium and lays down to die.
Olivia wakes in the hospital, her life having been saved by a neighbor that saw her suicide attempt through her window. She’s filled with disbelief that she could do something so irrevocable, and convinces herself that it was an accident. She’s abetted in this by her rescuer, Jude, who tells hospital administration that he believes it to have been an accident as well, which allows Olivia to check out of the hospital instead of into a suicide watch ward. Scared by her “accident,” Olivia decides to make her life better and is again helped by Jude, who becomes her best friend and almost constant companion. But some things don’t add up. Is Jude not what he seems? As Jude and Olivia grow closer and their feelings deepen into love, will Jude’s secrets tear them apart, leaving Olivia alone once more?
I very much enjoyed the parts of this book that dealt with Olivia’s depression and anxiety, and her steps toward healing after the suicide attempt. Someone told me recently that the mind of a person suffering from depression doesn’t work the way everyone else’s mind works. Perception is skewed, small problems become massive snake pits, and the temptation is always there to just give up. The author did a very good job of relating these feelings through Olivia’s internal dialogue, such that I felt much more knowledgable about how a depressed mind thinks. Olivia has to work very hard for every positive step she takes, and its impossible to remain unmoved when she succeeds.
Another thing I enjoyed was seeing how the other half lives, if you will. Most romances I read feature mature characters, most of them wealthy or at least comfortably well off. Jude and Olivia are young, however, just 22 and 20, and they’re poor, as are most people that age when they’re on their own. Things like having a ride to work, visiting someone else’s mansion, going out for Chinese food, all acquire a significance that gives the book an innocent, wide-eyed feel. That the sensuality was limited to kisses was more appropriate here than any hot and heavy love scene would have been, and the development of the romance is tender and sweet.
But then, something happens. The first three quarters of the book are all about Jude helping Olivia to heal, and her efforts to get her life back in order, and their slowly developing romance – and then the last quarter of the book goes completely haywire. All of a sudden there’s brutality and violence for page after page, and huge revelations that spell very bad news. A monstrous and completely unnecessary element is added in the last few pages, and then it’s just…dropped, offering no possible solutions, leaving the reader with no expectation of there ever being a happy ending. I felt slapped in the face.
There are positives here. The ARC I read was beautifully edited, and the writing was, for the most part, a delight. But after that ending I had to go back and check to make sure that the book was being marketed as a romance. Too bad the author lost her way and missed her chance to stop.