Let's start with Katie. I don't believe I've ever really read a story from the perspective of a "mean girl" who's done a one-eighty and now regrets all the terrible things she used to do. Because the Katie from high school is so vastly different from the Katie from now! The downside to this change though, is the fact that hardly anyone from her hometown now believes her. Not even her own parents! It requires patience and persistence for her to convince people of her genuine change of heart, something which she sorely struggles with. Katie has a huge mountain to overcome, but it's her heart so full of regret yet still so hopeful that I connected to. And that's where Asher comes in. Because he reminds her again and again, in her lowest moments, that hope is still possible. That her heart is worth knowing and her ability to stay the course will eventually bring the rewards she desires. Her battles may be hard, but the results will come! And it's that tiny light of hope I could see clinging to Katie, even in her more unlikable moments, that truly won me over. :)
I also related to the main reason she came home again. Her mother's disease and subsequent need for help drew her back, even as the pain of her parents inability to understand her made her wary. Moving back home, after years of being away, is never easy. Add in the fact that there's this disease that affects the entire family not just the patient, plus a difficult parent-child relationship, and everything becomes infinitely more hard. Still, Katie's determination to try and make things right between them showed me her beautiful heart and I knew I wanted to know more about her.
As for Asher? His journey isn't quite so tall a mountain, but the guilt he deals with is still a miserable road some days. His willingness to look beyond the pain Katie had caused him in the past, and see the bits of her heart she unknowingly shares initially, is a wonderful example of what a truly nice guy he is. His past isn't quite as harsh as Katie's, yet he still has trouble holding on to hope himself. Which is where Katie returns the favor and reminds him, sometimes just by simple, everyday conversation. Their slow build from friendship to something more is fraught with hard, doubts, fears, happiness, joy, tears, smiles, namely just about everything. It's not an easy road for either, but they gradually come to realize that they make each other better and that hope is so much easier to cling to when they have someone to lean on! I loved watching them encourage each other, sometimes with hard, honest truth and other times with gentleness and hugs. Their relationship felt realistic to me, because while they had fun bouts of adorableness and cute, they also frustrated each other and struggled to understand some of the choices the other would make. But it's that very longing to understand which kept me yearning for their happy ending!
This story is a beautiful example of two people who come together to choose to see the good, especially in each other, no matter how difficult it may get. They struggle, they laugh, they cry, they hope, and you are left with smiles and happy as you reach the final pages. Read this one, friends! It's a good one. :)
**I received a complimentary copy from the author via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
"The laundry moved."
Her giggles grew until they were gut-deep hysterics that made him smile for some reason.
"I'm telling you, it's so messy in there, I might be better off sleeping outdoors." Her laughter faded to a sigh that was anything but humorous. "What's something you tell yourself when a task feels too great? Too overwhelming?"
Her attention was back to him, as if he were a fortune cookie that held winning lottery numbers. But he had no clue how to answer, because he'd felt overwhelmed for months. He knew what his dad would say. He'd quote 1 Peter and tell her to pray. But that advice had barely resonated in his own life; he certainly couldn't expect it to resonate with someone who'd spent her adolescence bashing organized religion.
He thought again of the Jillian mess. "I guess I would take it one day at a time. One project at a time, and try to find purpose in each one." At least that was what he was trying to do.
She sat up and furrowed her brow like she was memorizing his words. "Find purpose in each task. One box at a time. One square inch and then another." Her voice grew stronger with each line, but he had no idea what she was talking about.
"Sure. Something like that."
"Okay." She gave a determined nod and stood. "Thank you." The way she said the words made him believe she was talking about more than his simple advice. Her fingers lovingly stroked the design etched in the wood column. "This really is beautiful, Asher."
She swatted the surface twice and then took off back to her house, swatting away invisible insects as soon as she crossed into her family's knee-high field.
Asher suddenly felt as if the air had been knocked out of him. Or maybe all those stars had collided overhead. He'd been ambushed, all right. But for some reason, her coming over didn't feel like such a bad thing anymore. In fact, he felt strangely relieved.
For the first time in ten miserable months, someone understood.