Consensual sex is the theme of this thoughtful romance set in college. Freshman Jacqueline ignored her interests to follow her boyfriend Kennedy to the college of his choice. Then she signs up for an economics class because of him. Fortunately, this state of affairs doesn’t last as Jacqueline not only finds her own identity, but also a new life.
When Kennedy breaks up with her, Jacqueline cocoons herself, refusing to go to classes. At the end of two weeks, her roommate Erin refuses to let her mourn any longer and forces her to go to class, even the dreaded economics class.
There Jacqueline has to grovel to her teacher, meeting whatever requirements he demands so that she doesn’t flunk. The econ professor reluctantly agrees to accept late work and suggests she go to the tutorial sessions run by Landon to catch up, giving her the tutor’s email address.
In her campaign to get Jacqueline back into circulation, Erin persuades her to go to a Halloween frat party. After watching Kennedy having a good time with different girls, Jacqueline decides to go back to the dorm, only to be attacked by one of Kennedy’s frat brothers. She is saved from being raped by Lucas, a guy who sits in the very back of the econ class and seems oblivious to all that’s going on around him.
At first Jacqueline doesn’t want to say anything about the attempted rape, but as she gets to know Lucas, who has a number of on-campus jobs including one as a self-defense instructor, she realizes that maybe she should report it. Working up the courage to tell someone is interspersed with her growing affection for both Lucas and the mysterious econ tutor with whom she communicates by email, not having time to attend his groups sessions.
Jacqueline is a wonderful combination of self-assurance and self-doubt. She’s slowly coming into her own as a person, and it’s fun to see her spread her wings. As a musician who teaches local kids, she shows a responsible, caring side. But like many women in their late teens and early twenties, she has enough uncertainties about her love life to make her endearingly vulnerable.
Lucas, for his part, cares enough for her to make her shine and goad her into taking the steps necessary to become an interesting, forceful adult. He has his own problems and hang-ups, all of them believable, which give her a chance to help him grow as well.
The main theme of consent between adults is handled very well, first from the viewpoints of the college students but then from the viewpoints of the fraternity brothers. Some want Jacqueline and others who’ve been harassed and/or raped by Kennedy’s friend to report him, while Kennedy and his fraternity brothers argue about who will be served if the guy is brought up on charges.
As Jacqueline takes self-defense classes—with Erin asking the instructor at every class whether she can kick someone in the junk—and becomes empowered, her relationship with Lucas and Kennedy changes. Webber writes realistically how empowerment changes relationships and what men and women should expect from one another.
My only caveat to the book is the “mystery” surrounding Landon, the tutor. Why something so obvious dragged on and on as if readers hadn’t figured it out from the get-go was silly. That Jacqueline couldn’t figure it out diminished her. All together considering how little the mystery matters, the larger issue of rape on campus is blunted while the mystery is finally solved.
Make no mistake. This is a gritty book as well as a satisfying romance that talks about important issues. That Webber manages to meld all of this into an enjoyable and readable whole without preaching is quite a feat.