Mary Jayne Baker
published: 18th June 2020
spoilers? yep some
Robyn Bloom thought Ash Barnes was the love of her life – until one day he announced he was leaving her to fly halfway across the world.
Months later, Robyn is struggling to move on – but then she has a brainwave: The Never Have I Ever Club. Her handsome next-door neighbour Will helps her bring their fellow Yorkshire villagers together for some carpe-diem-inspired fun.
From burlesque dancing to Swedish massages, everyone has plenty of bucket-list activities to try, but it doesn’t take long for Robyn to realise what – or who – her heart truly desires: Will.
There’s just one problem: he’s Ash’s twin brother.
Make that two problems: Ash is moving home… and he wants Robyn back.
Galley provided by publisher
I picked up The Never Have I Ever Club because I loved A Question of Us. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t quite reach the same standards as that.
In this book, we have a love triangle. Namely one in which person A (Ash) has ditched person B (Robyn) to head to Australia where he has hooked up with someone ten years younger. Now person B lives next door to person C (Will), who happens to be person A’s identical twin. In this particular love triangle scenario, person B and C start to form a relationship, but meanwhile, person A has realised that he got it entirely wrong and now he’s coming back home to try win person B back.
Aside from the love triangle, there is also the plot of the eponymous Never Have I Ever club, a village-wide society set up so that every member can do something they have always wanted to. A collective bucket-list, you might say. (It’s also a plotline that doesn’t really go anywhere. You know how you expect an arc to conclude with something? This doesn’t. It sort of gets left behind.)
While I liked the characters and humour of this book, there was one glaring part that frustrated me no end.
There are probably a few aspects to it, really: Ash’s return and refusal to take no for an answer, Will’s sheer bloody-minded devotion to Ash, and Robyn’s passive acceptance of this.
Let’s start with the first. Ash returns home within about a third of the book, but it really doesn’t leave enough time for Will and Robyn to have believably developed something that might become a romance. Not to mention, he returns and almost immediately starts trying to win Robyn back, in a way that could be seen as pressuring her. Most definitely is at some points. Over and over again, she tells him ‘no’, but he just doesn’t accept it. Alright, so his arc takes him to the point where he does accept that ‘no’, but he’s ignored it so many times up until then, that I have no patience for it.
But more inexplicable than expecting me to sympathise with Ash, is the way Will is so insistent on being “loyal” to Ash. He even comments
He’s my brother. And my best mate. That means I have to be in his corner no matter how wrong he was.
Will, your brother unceremoniously dumped Robyn and broke her heart, and then buggered off to Australia to hook up with someone ten years his junior. You absolutely do not have to “be in his corner”. He sees a relationship with Robyn as somehow betraying Ash. He won’t even go out with his friends because Ash is not also invited (because for some reason, since Ash isn’t forgiven, Will is not allowed to spend time with his friends? I didn’t get it). I understand a certain level of loyalty, sure, but the level to which it was taken here was just baffling. There’s even a point where Will and Robyn confess feelings for one another and then both decide they cannot be together because of Ash.
Which brings me neatly to my next, interrelated, point. Robyn just passively accepts all this. Ash has zero claim on Robyn – less than zero, you might argue, given he broke her heart – and yet she never pushes back against the idea that Will would be betraying Ash. She is her own goddamn person! She doesn’t even call Will out on this idea! No, the reason they finally decide they can be together is because Ash gives them his permission.
I don’t even have words for how much all this frustrated me. I had to take multiple breaks just to breathe through the frustration. I wouldn’t have minded if there was some kind of analysis or takedown of the ideas (which, let’s be real, all lead back to the idea that women are somehow men’s property, that men have some sort of ownership over them). But there isn’t! And that’s the most annoying part.
All this aside, though, it was still a pretty cute and funny romance. I only wish I had liked it a lot more.