Never Let You Go: A Modern Fairy Tale
One wouldn’t immediately think of Hansel and Gretel as a fairy tale ripe for reimagining. What kind of romance story could come from the theme of child abandonment and having to fight an evil captor to survive? Fortunately author Katy Regnery knew there was a goldmine within the tale and brought it into present day with a New Adult flare in her book Never Let You Go.
Caught in the system due to her dysfunctional family, Griselda Schroeder has been placed with a family more interested in their monthly stipends than truly caring for the children in their home. A trip to the Shenandoah River in West Virginia with her foster brothers and sisters is more of a chore than an adventure to Gris, especially when her foster mother forces her to walk to a local store for supplies rather than sending one of the older children. Her walk is only made bearable with the company of her newest foster brother, Holden Croft, a boy her age with a friendly disposition. When the two kids are approached by a man claiming to know their foster mother and enticing them into his truck with a small puppy, Gris and Holden’s young lives are irrevocably changed.
Flash forward thirteen years and Griselda is working as a nanny for a successful Washington D.C. family but is still haunted by her kidnapping and the boy she was forced to leave behind with their abductor. Zelda’s heart has never forgotten Holden and she has saved as much of her paycheck as possible to hire an investigator to find what happened to him when they were separated. Stuck in an abusive relationship with a man she cares very little for, Zelda is unnerved when he takes her and their friends on a fishing trip down to West Virginia, a place she has never returned to since her escape. Her journey back to the scene of her greatest pain is made all the more uncomfortable when her boyfriend forces her to attend an amateur fight between two of the local toughs. Once there, Zelda is shocked when one of the men fighting seems to know exactly who she is.
Holden, known as Seth West to his local friends, cannot believe that the beautiful young woman he spots in the crowd could look just like the girl he was told died during their escape attempt. For years Holden has tried to forget the pain of losing the only person he cared for, drowning her memory in meaningless sex and expressing his anger through his fists. His body and mind have been forever marked with reminders of how Gris’s loss changed him, so seeing her alive rips open all the scars around his heart. The floodgates open to memories of their survival for three years together as well as how difficult his life has been without that part of his soul he thought lost forever.
Ten years of separation have changed both Holden and Gris from the children they were into adults full of pain and regrets. Both of them have held tight to the beloved memories of each other as kids and it is hard for them to reconcile that memory against the adults they are now. They are strongly attracted to one another but they both fear adding a physical relationship into an already tense reunion. Added onto their problems are current partners who roughly pull Holden and Gris back into the lives they were living before they met again. This modern day Hansel and Gretel have to follow the breadcrumbs of their past regrets back to that moment where they can rediscover the man and women they were always meant to be.
I believe Katy Regnery’s talent is putting real emotion onto the page so that we the reader feel every moment right along with her characters. We fear for Gris and Holden when they are children locked away from the outside and clinging to one another for hope. We are saddened to see how unfulfilled their lives became without that hope of being reunited or knowing their soul mate was still there to support them. On the other side we are joyful at their reunion as adults but understand there is still pain in the discovery that their lives have been so impeded by their past. The angst level of the story stays at a constant simmer; with small bubbles of drama to draw the reader even deeper into just how devoted Gris and Holden are to one another. Their love is all encompassing and there is great satisfaction in watching that love mature from childhood infatuation to a deeply binding emotion for two adults seeking that bond with their other half.
Gris and Holden’s story unfolds through flashbacks between their past and their present. Normally I don’t care for flashbacks in a story because it can feel forced or will interrupt the flow of the action driving the main storyline. However in this book those flashbacks are important and meaningful as they explain exactly who these two people are. Both characters were somewhat frozen in time from the moment they each escaped from their kidnapper. Gris held tight to the self-image of a woman who wasn’t worth a lot because she had betrayed the one person she cared for. Holden was empty of the emotions required to truly live a life so he just existed day to day. When they are reunited they are forced to confront their past demons and the reader is allowed to experience that reflection along with them to see how it effects who they want to become in the future.
I appreciated that the love and physical relationship between Gris and Holden was allowed to take a slower pace once they come together. If they had immediately jumped into bed with one another, or if both of them declared themselves within days of seeing each other, it would have read as false considering their history. Both characters were bombarded with such intense emotions that it took time for them to sort through everything to the real love they felt. I enjoyed seeing each character open up to trusting each other and themselves. When things happened to tear them apart again, rather than falling they used those challenges to become stronger. I loved reading the smaller moments where they grow up and take ownership of their futures. It showed they were well rounded characters who would have a future off the page.
Never Let You Go is not Katy Regnery’s first foray into creating a modern day fairy tale. She’s put her spin on Beauty and the Beast and has several more in the works. I enjoy her style of creating real people and real moments with a hint of what could be magic in how they come together and fall in love. I am eager to see which classic tale is next.