Why I read it: After seeing Jennie review it positively at Dear Author recently I went to buy it only to realise I had already done so at some earlier point. Then DA Jane read it and said it was really good so I moved it up Mt. TBR.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) Can a guilty conscience keep wounds from healing?
Fine arts major, Candace Parker, grew up with a mother who thinks image is everything, and her daughter’s perfection will never be good enough. About to graduate college and pursue her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, Candace decides it’s time to let go and have a little fun. But fun is short-lived when a brutal attack leaves her completely shattered.
The memories that consume and torment Candace are starting to destroy her when she meets Ryan Campbell, a successful bar owner. He feels instantly connected and tries to show her that hope is worth fighting for. But is Ryan harboring his own demons? As walls slowly begin to chip away, the secrets that are held within start to become painful burdens.
At what point do secrets become lies?
Warning: The main character of the book is raped and it does happen on page. I don’t think it’s gratuitous but those will triggers will probably want to avoid.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): The book starts in Ryan’s POV in a “prologue” (which threw me a bit because Chapter One is actually before the events of the prologue – which I should have remembered from Jennie’s review but I forgot). He hears a girl screaming in an alley behind the bar he owns/runs and runs to the rescue, fighting off he rapist, covering Candace and calling an ambulance. Candace is unconscious and isn’t aware of Ryan’s presence at all.
The story then really starts with Candace starting her final year of college. She is a studying Fine Arts, majoring in dance (ballet). Her dream is to dance with one of the big New York ballet companies and it is clear she’s good enough to do it too. She is fairly shy and risk averse but decides to let herself loosen up a bit – she even gets a tiny tattoo to mark the occasion. Her parents are very wealthy and her mother in particular is very (like times a million) conscious of her social standing. She disapproves of Candace in many ways and both her parents are disapointed she will not conform to their version of “respectable”. I did find this a bit difficult to understand. The parents felt a little unbelievable to me and I found it hard to see how they had not noticed just how good a dancer she is over the many years she has been studying it.
Her mother sets her up on a date with Jack, the son of one of her wealthy friends. Jack is not really her type but she is trying to be more adventurous and at the time, she doesn’t want to rock the boat with her mother. She doesn’t think there is any future for them but she goes out with him on a second date to see if sparks develop. She does find out he is a good kisser – he is able to arouse her passions but nothing else about him really rings her bells so she decides to break it off – especially after he seems to be becoming clingy and possessive. She decides to tell him she doesn’t want to date him but as she has already agreed to go to a party with him, she decides to go and tell him at the end of the evening. This doesn’t go well at all, Jack accuses Candace of leading him on – she runs out, he follows her and then brutally rapes her in the alleyway behind Ryan’s bar. Candace wakes up on the way into the hospital where she is treated and a rape kit is done. She is extremely traumatised and is terrified of people knowing what has happened to her – she thinks she did lead Jack on and brought this on herself. She does call her best friend Jase and he (and shortly after Mark, Jase’s boyfriend) is the only one who knows what happened for most of the book.
Candace and Jase have a friendship which felt unfamiliar to me. I’ve never had a male platonic-only friend who I was prepared to change clothes in front of or sleep/cuddle with. That said, the way it was presented in the book felt natural and authentic for the character even if I very occasionally raised my eyebrows (and felt really old). There is an innocence to the relationship between Jase and Candace and the complete absence of any sexual interplay or flirting. Jase is not like a brother either (because: ew). He is a close friend, they have a physical but not at all sexual relationship and it worked for me in the book. I didn’t find him a gay best friend stereotype at all. His character was much more than that.
The description of the rape itself and how Candace reacted as it was happening felt realistic (without me being in anyway an expert on the topic). The description was sufficient to get a very clear picture but not graphic in that it didn’t take pages and pages to describe every single thing. In fact, the part which touched me the most was about a dumpster.
My head falls to the side, and my body goes limp aside from the involuntary twitches from each of his assaults. I focus every ounce of strength I have left on the corner of the dumpster that’s next to me. It’s painted dark blue, but maybe it’s a lighter blue during the daylight. I can tell it’s been painted five or six times… I can see every layer. It’s chipping away, and the dark grey metal from underneath is exposed. The line along the chipped paint is ridged and there is a thin vein of white between the blue and grey. Gritty dirt clings to the wheel, and the wheel lock is beginning to rust. The dumpster is worn and full of dents… one… two… three… four… five… six…
I will add that there is a scene later in the book where Candace is reliving the rape in a nightmare and that is a bit more graphic. Again not gratuitous and not super long, but my heart was pounding when I read it – the reading experience at that point was visceral for me.
The style is simple, with many short, declarative sentences. I continued to read more because of the story rather than the style. Or perhaps, the style didn’t get in the way of the story, would be a better way of putting it. The story itself has a lot of emotion in it; lots of adjectives or complicated metaphors would have reduced it’s power I think and it would not have been in keeping with Candace.
Some of the dialogue felt unreal to me (ie, not how people actually speak) - which I noticed but was able to mostly put aside
“He’s finishing up rehearsals with the band. He should be here shortly, then we are heading out to Malone’s to shoot some pool and chill,” Jase says….
“You should come. We are hiking up to the Tolmie Peak Lookout.”
There were some words used in the story that I felt were misused and some terms that felt a little odd to me – for instance, Candace commonly says things “on a hush” which I think is meant to mean “in a whisper”. But there were also many sections which I found very moving or which struck a chord with me.
As I shake my head, he tells me, “You’re so fucking beautiful.”
I believe him when he says those words to me. I might not feel that way in a day from now, or even an hour from now. But right now, in this moment— I believe him.
While I had some difficulty understanding why Candace would continue to hide what happened from Kimber and her reasons seemed to change somewhat throughout the book, I did think that Candace’s reactions felt very authentic. And the book showed her slow recovery and all the difficulties she had in finding herself again after the assault left her bereft of her selfhood. I know that every woman who is raped will have a different reaction to the trauma of it and Candace’s experiences are by no means a monolith. This is one possible reaction and I felt it was presented as exactly that and I liked that there no judgement in the tone of the narrative. And, every other character who knows about what happened (apart from Jack I suppose and, for a long time, Candace herself) believes very strongly that she was not to blame for what happened. At one point Ryan even says:
“What the fuck could you have possibly done, because I know you, Candace, and I know you couldn’t have led him on that much. But that shit doesn’t even matter because you could’ve stripped down in front of him, and you still didn’t deserved to be raped.”
I might have cheered a little at that bit.
The romance between Ryan and Candace developed very slowly and they were friends before anything else happens. Even then, Ryan and Candace only go so far as kissing for quite a long time. Ryan is presented as a bit of a dick at the start, he had regular hookups but no relationships and was fairly callous about a girl’s feelings for him. However, with Candace he isn’t like that. Every now and then he will be a bit of a demanding alphahole – “You’re staying with me tonight” or “I’m going with you” – presented as faits accomplis rather than options or invitations, but mostly, he was very sweet.
What else? I loved the relationship Candace developed with Ryan’s mother Donna and I’m glad Candace was finally able to set her relationship with Kimber to rights by the end of the book (when they’d spent much of it alienated from one another).
When Candace finds out it was Ryan who was with her in the alleyway after she was raped and it was he to called the ambulance, she feels terribly betrayed and pushes him away. At this point however, Candace feels that she needs to start to stand on her own two feet rather than leaning so heavily on others (Jase, Mark, Ryan) so she seeks counselling. I was very glad she did this and it made sense in the context of the story that she was away from Ryan for most of this time.
I did feel that her career decision at the end felt a) a little irresponsible (my inner HR person coming out I believe) and b) not terribly well set up. It delivers a HEA but I wasn’t entirely convinced and would have liked more to telegraph it in the story.
I found this book to be very readable – I stayed up way too late one night reading and I never lost sympathy for Candace. She felt she was always crying and leaning on people too much but I neither thought that nor became tired of her feeling that way. So, I think that denotes some authorial cleverness there.
I loved the secondary characters of Jase and Mark and I see they have a story of their own just released (Freeing) – which I *think* must cover some of the the same time period at least because, by the end of Fading, they were in the midst of their own HEA.