My Sweetest Escape by Chelsea M. Cameron

My Sweetest EscapeWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  The past will always find you.

Jos Archer was the girl with the perfect life; until the night it all came crashing down around her. Now, nine months later, she still hasn’t begun to pick up the pieces. Even transferring to a new college and living under the watchful eye of her older sister, Renee, isn’t enough to help her feel normal again.

And then she meets Dusty Sharp. For reasons Jos can’t begin to fathom, the newly reformed campus bad boy seems determined to draw her out of her shell. And if she’s not careful, his knowing green eyes and wicked smile will make her feel things she’s no longer sure she deserves.

But even as Dusty coaxes Jos to open up about the past, he’s hiding secrets of his own. Secrets about the night her old life fell apart. When the truth is finally revealed, will it bring them closer together;or tear them apart for good?

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I enjoy this author’s style very much – even when the plot was frustrating me, the story was always easy to read. Props to Harlequin for showing an interracial couple on the cover too.

The reader knows, from the blurb and in any event, it is apparent very very early in the story that “something” happened nine months earlier (dont’ worry, it’s not baby related) and this changed Jos’s life.  I felt the reveal of the “something” was drawn out too long and when it was finally revealed, it felt anti-climactic to me.  I admit I had some difficulty in understanding why Jos felt so responsible.  Perhaps I am just a hardass.

The other frustration was the yes-I-will/no-I-won’t from Dusty.  I couldn’t work out what he was about for the longest time.  He was around all the time and friendly, but it didn’t jump out at me that he was crushing on Jos the whole time.  Even when they do get close and it looks like they might kiss, he pushes her away and tells her he doesn’t feel “that way” about her.  At the time I believed him.  Perhaps I am a gullible reader but it didn’t feel like a courtship dynamic to me at that point.  I knew they were to be romantically linked because I read the blurb, but their banter didn’t feel particularly sexual to me.  Then, boom! they kiss and it’s all systems go on the zing-o-meter.  That’s when I saw the snap, crackle and pop of their sexual chemistry but it was tightly contained up until then.  I felt like the romance part of the story was all packed into the last third of the book and it felt unbalanced to me. What there was I enjoyed but I wished it had begun earlier in the novel.

The other thing which bothered me – and the more I think about it the more it does – Dusty is clearly at least partly African-American.  He is described thus:

He had darkish skin, cropped black hair, but the most astonishing green eyes.

He is pictured on the cover as being African American.  But nowhere else in the book was his ethnicity mentioned at all. Unless you count that Dusty beatboxes as some kind of black stereotype (which I personally don’t) there was just nothing about his ethnicity.  There was no mention of casual racism toward him or whether an interracial relationship might have some different challenges.  I read a blog comment recently (here in fact) where Jill Sorenson said:

“…I would probably default white, and not just because most romance authors and characters are white. There is a white way of thinking, or not-thinking, about race. White people can go about their daily business without being judged by skin color, so authors rarely include white characters thinking of themselves as white. This is what white default means to me. Authors don’t have to spell it out, because privilege is unspoken, invisible, imbedded in that group. But it’s *there*.”

and also

“I had another recent experience reading a book with a biracial hero. He’s described as “dark” (that’s it) and the cover image does look like a non-white person. I kept waiting for some mention of his ethnicity. At one point he’s hopping over his neighbor’s fences, but not worried that his neighbors will think he’s a burglar. This was a “nice” neighborhood (white?)…”

Thinking about those comments, I felt that Dusty read “white” to me.  If not for the cover, I could have imagined him as tanned or of Mediterranean extraction because his skin colour was mentioned, fairly vaguely, only once.  Is that my failing?  Or a failing on the part of the text?  I feel unqualified on the topic but I felt it was worth mentioning.  I’d love to hear what any of my African American readers who have also read the book think.  Did I miss something?

What else?  All that said, I did like Dusty and I also liked Jos.  I adored Hannah and I’m hoping we get her story one day. Hannah has severe scars from a bad burn injury and how she handles being the centre of negative attention seemed nuanced to me.  She could be very in your face about it, very challenging, but other times, she was very sensitive and got upset by people being awful – something she comes across often.  Other times, she shrugs it off like it’s nothing.  She was more than her scars – they were part of her, but didn’t define her even though she still has emotional vulnerability about it from time to time (of course).   That seemed very authentic to me.  I loved the friendship between Jos and Hannah. And I loved the way that both Jos and Hannah were accepted into the family of Yellowfield House.

Jos’s sister Renee irritated me for the most part – her over-protectiveness combined with her emotional outbursts and uncertain temper made me feel quite sorry for Paul, her long-suffering boyfriend.  Hunter and Taylor were still beyond cute even though I felt their relationship was progressing a tad too fast.  I was very relieved to hear they’d decided to wait on.. other things.

I also liked the way music was integrated into the story and I would have liked more in the book about the school paper and the record shop where Dusty worked.

The book had such an engaging style that it kept me reading and I will definitely be picking up the next book (please tell me there will be one).  While some aspects of the plot didn’t work for me, I so enjoy Ms. Cameron’s writing voice and the way she writes dialogue and banter that it was still a worthwhile read.  And Dusty’s sexy talk was pretty special once he let himself tell Jos how he really felt. Rowr. I feel the first book My Favourite Mistake was the stronger novel, but I did end up enjoying My Sweetest Escape.

Grade: B-/C+



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