The Theme: Contemporary romance
Why This One: I’m almost out of print contemporaries!
There were two plot elements that made me approach this book with trepidation: the hero is Native American, and the heroine was formerly fat and has lost a lot of weight. Only one of these is in my wheelhouse, but I’d say neither fear was justified. I was a bit put off by the heroine’s thoughts about her former weight, but I can’t say they aren’t true-to-life… and her overall arc won me over.
Marissa Pierce and Robert Martinez aren’t really strangers — both are friends with the Forrest family, heroes of the three previous book in the series, which are loosely linked by a matchmaking theme. (I haven’t read any of the previous books and didn’t find that a problem.) But they only really come to know each other over concern for Robert’s niece Crystal, a pregnant teen who is Robert’s ward and Marissa’s student.
Robert doesn’t want to act on his strong attraction to the very wealthy Marissa, because he thinks she’d just be slumming. Marissa has self-esteem issues of her own, because she’s still far from where she wants to be, and she’s also freaked out by how intense things get between them. These are fairly typical romance themes; what set the book apart for me was how strong a character Marissa is. She has a very full, vibrant life, including a close relationship with her twin, whose issues expressed themselves in under- rather than over-eating. (Her book, sadly, never got written.) Marissa has some guilt around being so rich, founds charities. and doesn’t live a high profile lifestyle, but she also doesn’t hesitate to use money to enrich her life or make it easier. (As someone who grew up very poor, I envy that ease.)
I loved that Marissa is not a pathetic virgin — she had plenty of boyfriends before she lost weight. Despite the changes, she’s not thin and will never achieve a “perfect” body. (Another area I can really relate to.) Her weight loss is based on exercise and mindful eating, which makes it interesting to read about, rather than unutterably tedious and sad, and she is, very realistically, worried about gaining weight again. But it’s clear that Robert always found her attractive, admiring her style and zest for life, and so we don’t have to be concerned that he’ll only love her if she stays smaller. I also loved that she doesn’t put up with any crap about her eating choices from others; she does what she knows works for her and to hell with them.
The side story with Crystal is also very well drawn. She’s an intelligent girl from a horrific background, and she’s dealing with a lot of hidden pain. Her story reminded me a bit of the author’s wonderful The Sleeping Night, which she wrote under the name Barbara Samuel.
I’m glad I took a chance on this one.