The Family You Make
The Family You Make is a charming start to a new series by Jill Shalvis. A perfect winter read, it tells the story of two strangers thrown together in an emergency who end up building something real between them when they come through the other side.
Levi Cutler and Jane Parks meet as they are stranded on a ski lift in a blizzard, one strong gust of wind away from a steep drop and quick death. Fearing it’s his last chance, Levi calls his parents to tell them he loves them, and unexpectedly gets roped into a conversation about his dating life. Not wanting to end on a bad note, literally, Levi manages to tell them that Jane is his new girlfriend before the power cuts out. Jane is not impressed, but nonetheless manages to enjoy the remaining time stuck in the gondola with Levi, bantering with him and talking about what’s meaningful in their lives. A few hours later, safely returned to solid ground, the feeling of intimacy between them lingers.
Jane, however, has no plans to do anything about that feeling. Effectively abandoned by her family as a child – or neglected enough to feel abandoned – Jane is extremely skittish about getting into relationships. Instead she works as a traveling nurse, allowing her to rotate positions and never stay in one place long enough to put down roots. Is a perfect, and very lonely, setup for her life.
Luckily, Jane’s nomad lifestyle isn’t enough to deter Levi. After looking her up through some hospital connections, he asks Jane to come to dinner at his house to pacify his family. By bribing her with cupcakes and making it clear that he’d like to make the fake relationship a real one anytime she’s ready, Levi slowly entices Jane to give him a shot. It’s a little like watching someone coax a shy woodland creature to eat from their palm – in dating Levi, Jane is leaving her natural habitat far behind.
Of course, Levi is carrying his own share of relationship baggage. Years ago his highschool sweetheart died, and Levi has never gotten over the guilt of not proposing to her before she passed. Even more, he feels guilty for not wanting to propose to her. As Jane stumbles down a path toward trusting people, Levi works on trusting and respecting himself. Despite a few hiccups along the way, these two complement each other well, and both show some real growth over the book.
My biggest critique – and it’s not very big – is that I simply don’t have more to say about this book. It’s a lovely story about a couple finding each other, healing from old wounds, and building a life together. The secondary characters (which include another couple, who are friends of Levi and Jane) are also nice, well-rounded people with a good romance. I may not be raving about this as the best book of 2022, but I will highly recommend it as a perfect winter read (though maybe not on a ski trip?). Fans of Shalvis are sure to enjoy it, as will any new readers as it’s the first book in a new series.