Even though I have two (or is it three?) novels by Ms Shalvis in the tottering TBR mountain, Long-lost Mom, a shorter romance published back in 1999 by Silhouette Intimate Moments, is the first book of hers that I’ve read.
I have to preface this review by saying that I’m more than a bit flummoxed by my reaction to the book—as you’ll see when you read further.
First the typically awful back cover blurb:
The Ultimate Sacrifice
Single mom Jenna Loggins had come from the wrong side of the tracks, but she’s vowed to give her beloved baby a better life. So ten years ago, desperate Jenna fled, leaving her daughter in the care of Stone Cameron, the child’s father and the son of the richest family in town.
But a near-fatal crash has given Jenna a second chance to make things right for the man and child she loved but left behind. Now Jenna’s back—with a new name and face. And Stone is drawn to the mysterious beauty. Can Jenna risk telling Stone and her daughter the truth, or will she have to hide behind the face of a stranger forever?
Before anything else, I must give quite a bit of plot background.
Jenna’s early life is perfectly awful. No father in the picture, a shrew of a mother who constantly puts her down while exalting her perfect older sister, Kristen, and who tends to put time with the boyfriend of the moment ahead of time with her daughters. Since Jenna only gets attention when acting up, she devotes her life to do just that—playing hooky, sulking, talking back, and all other traditional negative teenage attitudes.
One day (afternoon? evening?) she’s attacked by the boyfriend in turn—her high school principal. When caught by Jenna’s mother, the sleaze bag turns it into, “What can you expect? This Lolita seduced me!” which prompts this *cough* paragon *cough* of maternal love and support to kick the kid out of her house.
By then, Jenna has met and been befriended by Stone, the younger son of the wealthiest and most respected (read: snobs) family in their little town. He finds her, supports her, offers her a shoulder to cry on, and impregnates her. It bears mentioning that they both try to be responsible, but the condom tears—hey, it does happen.
So here we are: he’s twenty and she’s shy of seventeen and pregnant. When he decides that he’ll do the right thing by Jenna and their baby, his family disowns him. What does she do? She runs. Yup. A day or so after her baby girl is born, she ups and leaves.
Fast forward ten years, almost to the day, and we find that Stone not only survived the early days of an infant while attending college and supporting himself and his daughter Sara with no help whatsoever from anyone, but he is a successful toy designer and manufacturer. His family still shuns them, and he worries pretty much constantly about what would happen to Sara if he dies or falls ill.
Suddenly, there’s this new single woman in town who catches his eye—and his libido. No one knows, but this mysterious stranger is in fact Jenna. A year ago she was in a car accident that disfigured her, and during her recovery she has an epiphany and decides to come back to “right her wrongs.”
I think a lot of readers can pretty much figure out the rest of the plot from there.
Things that bothered me:
Stone is a little too perfect—too understanding, too decent, too willing to swallow his pride and his heartache for his daughter’s sake.
Sara is just the teensiest bit too precocious—not quite enough to cross the line into precious little adult, but almost there.
Jenna, though is the one who breaks the story for me. There is no real growth for her. Both Stone and Kristen tell her that she’s changed, that she’s stronger. Jenna herself says that she has outgrown her adolescent antics. Yet! her behaviour doesn’t show either change nor growth.
Then there are the many story threads that are hinted at but never properly addressed—the assault by the boyfriend/school principal; where and how did Jenna survive between this and the birth of Sara; what did she do and feel between skipping town and the accident.
To top it all off, there’s an epilogue. With babies and picket fences no less.
In most cases, such a book would have gone back to the TBR pile, or even to the “can’t finish, give away” box. The weird—in a good way—thing is that despite all of this, I really enjoyed Ms Shalvis’ writing.
There is a lot of internal dialogue that feels real and brings there characters back from the brink of stereotypes. Stone’s constant worry about Sara’s future, should something happen to him. His incredulity and resentment over his family’s rejection of this precious child. His repeated attempts at a reconciliation, for her sake. Jenna’s guilt when falling back into immature patterns of behaviour; her shaky self confidence; her anguish over leaving, her acknowledgment that there are not excuses or justifications for it.
In the end, and even though I didn’t see the vaunted character growth, the characterization was good. The rhythm of the story kept me reading pretty much non-stop. Ms Shalvis’ writing voice engaged me and made me care for these people even when I felt their actions and decisions were rather bleh. Heck, even the epilogue didn’t make me screech.
So here you have it. How do I grade a book that has a number of my personal “oh dear Lord, spare me!” issues, yet engaged me to the last page?
I’m splitting the difference, as it were, and giving it a 5.5 out of 10, while stating that I’m looking forward to reading more of Ms Shalvis’ books.
You can find Long-lost Mom via amazon.com here.