A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Hitting the Wall by Cate C. Wells

on December 21, 2022

The theme: Festive

Why this one: Well, it ends with a holiday parade, which of course I knew when I started reading it!

After actually indulging in a few Christmas romances this month, and finding them unbearably samey, I’ve been in the mood for some good ole angst. This filled the bill nicely, while also being surprisingly complex and interesting.

At 17, high school student Shay Crowder found herself pregnant after a drunken night with her crush Kellum Wall… who subsequently hung up on her when she tried to tell him, and blocked her calls. When Kellum’s father and uncle, the wealthiest and most important men in town, arrive with the local sheriff to investigate a clearly, obviously untrue rumor, Shay is easily intimidated into leaving the area.

Six years later, Shay is living with a mother who “has all the advice in the world, but not an ounce of patience,” and her daughter Mira is being exposed to drunken men at home and physical abuse in a special education program at school. Shay decides she has to risk returning to Stonecut County, where she has an opportunity for cheap housing and is unlikely to run into any of the Wall family again. Except she does… and Kellum, now Deputy Sheriff, recognizes both her and Mira, who looks exactly like his sister Dina as a child.

Honestly, I didn’t know how the author could redeem Kellum, especially considering he’s also 7 years older than Shay. (!) Perhaps that’s why we first meet him in the story risking his own life to rescue an infant, to quickly establish his good guy cred. But there were also a number of extenuating circumstances, and he had no idea about Shay’s age, her pregnancy or his family’s visit, so when he immediately sets out to take responsibility for his mistakes, I was able to accept him as her hero. Shay finds it much more difficult to do so though — and she’s not exactly wrong.

A constant theme in the book is the entrenchment of power and how it protects itself. Shay is brave, fierce, and a realist; her cynicism is entirely earned. She can’t put her trust in a man who loves and admires the very people who destroyed her life. And Kellum, one of those powerful people himself, is too close to see it:

In this moment, I hate him.

He’s the most honest and upstanding man I’ve ever met, and I can’t trust him. He simply can’t fathom a world that doesn’t arrange itself for him so he’ll never understand the danger Mia and I are in.

In addition to its social commentary, Hitting the Wall won me with the depiction of Shay and Mira’s relationship. Mira doesn’t have a diagnosis, something difficult to get when you don’t have reliable medical care, but is pretty clearly on the autism spectrum. Shay loves her wholeheartedly and respects her needs, with tremendous insight into Mia’s inner world:

Mia’s not a brat. She picks up after herself. She does what she’s told. But when she gets into something that speaks to her, it’s like she rearranges the whole world. That thing–watching tadpoles or lining up critters or whatever–becomes the tent pole holding up everything in her world.

Life is fine and wonderful, and then I come in and say “In five minutes, I’m gonna yank this pole and pull everything out from under you, turn your day topsy-turvy, and most likely also loud and unpleasant and there’s not a damn thing you can do. Five minutes.”

And folks want me to whup her on top of that when she doesn’t act with perfect grace? No. I give her time to mourn the way she wants. Folks can get bent.

After all this, the ending seems almost too easy and perfect; I feel like I’d never want to live in Stonecut County again. Then again, corrupt power is everywhere and Shay is nothing if not a realist. I do believe in her HEA.

3 responses to “TBR Challenge: Hitting the Wall by Cate C. Wells

  1. whiskeyinthejar says:

    This sounds like a book my angst monster self would want the other 11 months of the year, Dec. I try to take in more of the fluff.
    I went to add this to the tbr and was a little surprised at the cover, it doesn’t seem to fit the tone or having more meat to story you talk about and made me think of all those conversations about covers not matching story. I honestly might have passed this one by because I feel like I already have a ton of rom-suspense “alpha” on the tbr.

    • willaful says:

      My wanting fluff or not doesn’t seem to be connected to the calendar. More to politics, lol.

      It really is hard to know what you’re getting, not only with covers but reviews. So many people looking for different things than I am. I imagine this works out fine for the people who buy it for the cover, but how’s someone like me supposed to know I’d like it?!

  2. azteclady says:

    oh my goodness, this is a fantastic review of what seems to be a very very good book. I’m so sorry I missed it last month!

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