Is it possible to fall in love with the person who made your life as a teenager hell?
Since her wife Anna died suddenly, Sam Parker has been raising her young son Jake on her own, with the help of her best friend Drea and of her parents. Apart from her job (which she would love if it wasn’t for the insufferable colleague who keeps claiming all the credit for the team’s hard work), her adult time is her Friday nights with Drea and her softball team. She might not be deliriously happy but she’s doing okay. Until Ashley Valence comes back to New Orleans and becomes the team’s star pitcher. Sam’s high school years of being bullied by Ashley and her friends flow back in nightmares.
There’s nothing Ashley – Ash – is more ashamed of than the way she treated Sam as a teenager and she’ll do everything to try and make up for it. Yet life is never black and white and while there’s no excuse for teenage Ashley’s behaviour, there are explanations. Ash has worked a lot to change, which Sam will come to see.
Seriously, where do all these awesome debut novels come from? Even though Other Girls doesn’t really feel like a debut novel. There are a few flaws in this book, but nothing huge. I kept wondering where Anna’s family was, for example. The writing is excellent, so is the pace, the angst is never forced and Ash’s path to redemption just flows. As wary as I was at first of the storyline, it feels completely natural. The chemistry between Ash and Sam is subtle but real. Despite what happened in high school, they’re both good people, kind and compassionate and open-minded. I loved the fact that the bullying was only one – if significant – aspect of the story, that they both had lived through other things and were ready for each other when they met again.
One of the things I love about second chances and enemies to lovers romances is how convincing the author needs to be to make them believable. When you dislike (or more) someone, or when you’ve already had a failed relationship with them, there’s obviously a lot of work involved (both on the author’s part and on the characters’) for a relationship to take off. Brooks totally makes it work.
There’s a second love story in Other Girls, that of the characters (reflecting the author’s) with the city of New Orleans. Ash came back because, regardless of the bad memories from her childhood, there’s no place she loves more than New Orleans. Sam never left for the same reasons. Brooks shares her love through little things, in the way she mentions a smell, a sound, the food, a view. There aren’t overwhelming depictions, just low-key touches here and there.
Another awesome thing about this book is despite the premise being as sad as can be (Sam was bullied as a kid and she’s a widow, Ash survived a violent childhood), it’s not a sad story. There are a lot of feelings and you’d best keep tissues at hand, but the overall impression is one of hope and promise.