How Sweet it Is
How Sweet It Is was not what I expected. The basics of the plot, the title, and the bright and cheerful cover all led me to believe I would be reading a fluffy, wish-fulfillment style novel. Instead, I found a surprisingly touching and grounded novel that dealt rather seriously with guilt and responsibility.
Lizzie Carpenter is a single mom and waitress at a diner in a small college town in New York (a not-so-subtle foil for Ithaca, NY, and Cornell University). Her life is shaken up, though, by a letter sent by her fourteen-year-old daughter’s father, whom she hasn’t spoken to or heard from in years, informing them that he will be coming for Christmas. The house is in disrepair, and Lizzie doesn’t want her jet-setting European high school fling to get the wrong impression. Somewhat facetiously, she makes a wish that a man would come, fix up her house, and then leave.
Dante (Tay) Giovanni heard her, though, from his seat at the diner where he was meeting the daughter of a woman he had killed in a purely accidental car accident. He’s been wracked with survivor’s guilt ever since the crash, unable to live life anymore — he just exists, every moment knowing that because of him, a woman is dead. He sold his properties in the City and, in trying to make things right, gives all of the money — $200 thousand — to the daughter to help her pay for school. Instead of accepting it, though, she tosses the bag of money into the city’s gorges. While he sticks around for a few days, trying to find the bag, he also can’t get Lizzie’s wish out of his mind, and since he managed property and knows his way around a toolbox, he starts fixing her fence. Lizzie soon finds out, though, that the only way she can repay Tay for fixing her house is by trying to fix him.
Some may think that Tay overreacts to the crash — selling his property, giving almost everything he has to an ungrateful college student, wandering alone unable to escape that moment when he ran a red light. It was an extreme reaction, yes, but a believable one. Tay is an interesting character — not particularly alpha, despite his handyman skills, and he feels deeply. I thought the development of his recovery was well done, and well paced; unlike some stories with traumatized heroes, Lizzie isn’t the panacea to his emotional problems. A lot of his healing has to be done within himself, but she certainly helps things along. However, given his emptiness and numbness, as a character he was difficult to grasp and his personality paled in comparison to Lizzie’s.
Lizzie, too, has bigger problems than a broken fence: her daughter is chafing at being stuck in a small town, and is putting unrealistic hopes and dreams on her unknown father. Her daughter Paige was a great character, caught in that phase between childhood and adulthood. She and Lizzie shared some great banter, and I was generally impressed with the subtle humor infused into some serious scenes.
Sophie Gunn is a pseudonym of Diana Holquist, an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. According to her Web site, her books under this new name are to be more down-to-earth and emotional. This is the first of a series surrounding the “Enemy Club,” a group of women (including Lizzie) who had been enemies in high school and are now friends, of sorts. I wouldn’t necessarily call How Sweet It Is a sweet book, exactly, but it is a solidly romantic and emotional one that I found hard to put down.