published: 4th August 2020
spoilers? a couple
You always come back to your first love
Nora hasn’t looked back. Not since she left home, and her broken heart, far behind her. But now tragedy calls her back, where she must finally come face to face with ex-boyfriend Charlie, and best friend Sophie. Only now will she be able to confront her past—and reconcile her future.
Sophie seems to have everything. Married to Charlie, with a wonderful daughter and a successful career. Yet underneath that perfection lies an explosive secret. A secret that ripped through their town and destroyed her friendship with Nora. So when Sophie finds out that Nora has returned, she hopes Nora’s stay is short. The life she has built depends on it.
But first love doesn’t fade easily. Memories come to light, passion ignites and old feelings resurface. As the forces that once tore them apart begin to re-emerge, both Nora and Sophie must accept that true love is something worth fighting for.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: homophobia, cheating, racism/Islamophobia, past alcohol abuse, biphobia
The Secret of You and Me felt a lot like a book of two separate stories. One is the story of two women working through their fallout from eighteen years previously, and sorting their current lives out (to an extent). The other is of their second chance romance. The first worked more for me than the second.
If you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll know how much I struggle with finding adult sapphic romances that I enjoy. And I really thought I had something here. I was liking the writing, I was (mostly) liking the way the plot was going. It looked like I was onto a win.
Well more fool me.
It’s not that this book suddenly turned awful. It was still a good book throughout. It’s just that certain things I was not enjoying got too much by the end and, yeah, the characters had some pretty shitty ideas at some points.
I’ll take this somewhat chronologically/in the order of the notes I made. First up, is that one of the main characters is ex-military. I don’t mean in and of itself that was a bad thing (necessarily), but I did feel as though it leant a little on the side of glorification of the military, or at the very least, no judgement on it. Which, okay, this is a US book and a US novelist, so that’s kind of to be expected. Doesn’t mean I had to like it.
But I tried to put that aside, or at least not let it affect how I read the book so much (and really, the whole thank you for your service crap dropped off within the first few chapters so it was easier). And then we came to the next bit. Everyone in this book is cheating. Okay, so not everyone. Emmadean is not. But that’s a single character of the ones who have most page time. I guess it makes it easier for your relationship between a married woman and a single woman to be okay when the married woman’s husband is already cheating. God but it got tiring though. Because the single woman is also in a relationship with another married woman. Genuinely I felt like I was following some kind of soap opera. Real housewives of wherever this book was set.
This took me up until the halfway mark, at which point I was still thinking I might like this book. And then the relationship between Nora and Sophie started.
Both of these characters had a sort of pattern. At the start, they ostensibly forgave each other, or said, let bygones be bygones. But throughout the book, they oscillated between being genuinely friendly again, and snapping at each other, and particularly snapping about past behaviours and so on. Which does not seem very forgiving to me. But okay, fine, I thought. Maybe they just need to work on the forgiveness part. Maybe there’s more hurt there than either of them expected. Except the pattern goes on until all but the end of the book, and it got a little hard to root for them together when, to my mind, they clearly weren’t good for one another.
And then, the kicker. Sophie’s husband figures something out but Nora tells him it’s all on her part and that Sophie rejected her. Charlie (the husband) then confronts Sophie about it, who blows up Nora’s lie and tells him everything. But in the meantime, she is unable to meet with Nora, who was expecting her. So Nora gets pissed (instead of, you know, wondering whether Sophie is okay) and basically claims like she did Sophie this huge favour by not outing her to her homophobic husband. Wow, thanks Nora! In a town you know is massively homophobic (more on that in a sec), you have so magnanimously not outed someone! She claims this lie is not only her being magnanimous, but also putting Sophie before herself. And, while she gets called out for actually being selfish in this situation, no one says to her that even thinking about outing someone like this is shitty, that choosing to out someone in a situation where they would be endangered is enormously so.
And this is when I really stopped rooting for this romance.
I mentioned how the town was homophobic briefly. I don’t have anything against showing homophobia and showing gay folks overcoming homophobia, per se. But the homophobia in this book was so constant it became genuinely exhausting. There was very little respite from it. If it wasn’t the casual and overt homophobia of the side characters, it was the main characters discussing it and having to deal with the aftermath of it. In the end, it just didn’t feel very sensitively handled, to be honest.
And all that meant that this book went from one that I thought I might have liked, to yet another that disappointed me.