Desert Isle Keeper
The Wallflower incorporates two great premises: the do-over and the high school crush. What if, knowing what you know now, you could go back to a time and a place in your life and do it better? And what if you could legitimately pursue the crush you had on that fabulous and good-looking teacher back in high school? While the first premise was enough to make me pick up the book – since it speaks directly to the high school geek that I was – the second premise is the basis for a sizzling romance that kept me riveted and thoroughly entertained.
Sara Davidson witnessed a murder and the bad guys don’t want her around to testify. I know that sounds clichéd, but trust me, the “Sara has to hide” storyline is almost beside the point in this book. It’s just the Macguffin author Jan Freed needs to get her heroine undercover in a high school. When the police aren’t able to protect her and she is nearly killed, she takes matters into her own hands and hides in the last place anyone would look: high school. Soon Jack Morgan finds himself disturbingly attracted to the brash transfer student. Shades of that old Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” How long will Sara – now calling herself Sarina Davis – be able to keep her secret?
In The Wallflower, Jan Freed takes full advantage of the longer Superromance format to develop a multidimensional hero and heroine, as well as a wonderful cast of secondary characters. While it seems like the main plot device – a 28 year-old-woman being able to pass for 17 – would be a liability in the suspension-of-disbelief department, Freed works it to her advantage. Sara/Sarina finds it almost impossible, despite her elfin looks, to pass because she can’t hide the assertiveness and social skills she has developed since her own high school years. Thus Freed turns a potential plot-stopper into an appealing and unusual plot twist.
Sara’s people skills and her empathy make her irresistible to a coterie of geeks and outcasts who gather around her, and in return she infuses them with the self-confidence and boosts they need to get over their own high school humps. There are some wickedly funny confrontations with the high school’s snotty cliques along the way, making the wish-fulfillment of this fantasy complete.
None of this detracts from the main plotline, the romance between Sara and Jack. Again, Freed deftly defuses the problematic aspects of this plotline by portraying Jack as more distressed by his attraction to “Sarina” than the reader is. Fortunately, Sara tells him the truth early enough in the book that their flirtation and developing relationship loses the “ick” factor quickly. Their dialogue pops with sexual tension and the payoff in the love scenes is worth waiting for.
The Wallflower shows what series romance can do at its best. Working firmly within genre conventions, Freed creates real people and believable complications. I could not put this book down until I finished it, and it defines the term “keeper” for me, since I read it as a library book and have since tracked down and purchased my own copy to keep, re-read, and lend out. If you like funny, touching romance, I urge you to do the same.