Ever since Swoon Reads, the crowd-sourced online imprint of Macmillan, announced they were going to publish “No Love Allowed” by home-grown author Kate Evangelista, I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see if I could get my hands on the Advanced Reader’s Edition.
Full disclosure: I was nine when I picked up my first romance novel – not those teen romances bequeathed by my favorite aunt unto my care. I’m talking about the works. Fabio’s glorious mane blowing in the breeze, the lush form of that week’s leading lady complete with ample bosom. After that, my high school and college years were spent scouring bookstores to complete every single Nora Roberts trilogy and spin-off, because I just couldn’t get enough.
I love romance. I’m a sucker for a good love story and will geek about it as much as I can anything else. If you’re the type to avoid spoilers, this might not be the review for you. Otherwise, read on and I’ll tell you why this is a book you should definitely look forward to.
Caleb Parker needs a Pretend Girlfriend – stat! After what could be considered a disastrous break up with his most recent fling, the son of Dodge Cove’s resident lawyer-to-the-elite is faced with finding someone willing enough to play fake paramour for the rest of the summer. Enter Diana “Didi” Alexander: former-waitress, aspiring painter and someone who is completely outside of Caleb’s social circle. She’s just lost her job, so her summer is kind of wide open.
The two have an up-close-and-personal encounter when Didi decides to take an impromptu cliff dive off a local landmark, and Caleb dives in after her in a WTF moment of ‘did she just try to off herself?’ As the two dry themselves off on the shoreline, Caleb admits thinking that she really was going to kill herself, whereas Didi flatly tells him that she wasn’t and calls him on his hero complex. They banter for a bit and eventually part ways, thinking that that’s the end of that.
A couple of days later, Caleb shows up at Didi’s doorstep with a proposal: pretendy funtimes with zero strings attached to make up for Caleb’s unwitting hand in her losing her job at the country club. The catch? None. He just really needs Didi’s help getting through the summer’s slew of events and parties, all of which his father expects him to attend. Didi agrees gamely because really: Why not? It’s a peek into a world she would otherwise not be a part of and the experience would be more than enough for her.
There is one rule that Caleb wants to enforce though: Didi must not, under any circumstance, fall in love with him. Then without any hesitation at all, the quip Didi returns is, “Have you ever considered that you might fall in love with me?”
Let’s back up a little now that I’ve given you the basic premise of the story, because anyone who’s ever watched a romcom knows that the ending will be good; get that out of the way and take it as a given. Romance novels are built with a formula that people come back to: two people meet and fall in love in twenty-seven chapters or so, and readers get to see each and every step until that glorious ship sails. There’s a reason that romance is feel-good stuff.
So, what I want to talk about instead is why I read this book three times in succession, and why I felt it was important enough to talk about in a review.
You see: Didi – charming, vivacious Didi – is bi-polar. Caleb and his supporting cast of cousins and friends don’t know this until the latter half of the book, but we, the readers, do. We’re given a peek into the daily machinations of Didi’s everyday where she keeps that tenuous balance between holding a metaphorical kite string that could float her away, while also gripping an anchor that could cause her to sink.
Protagonists with mental health issues aren’t common as far as standard feel-good romance goes without their condition often becoming the singular central point of conflict leading to something a little heavier. In the case of “No Love Allowed”, it manages to steer away from all the heavy, choosing instead to explore this subject by showing that this is just one of the many aspects of a character that is as human as we are. Didi is flawed and imperfect and doesn’t always quite make the best of decisions – even if the intent behind these decisions meant well. This is illustrated best in one uh-oh moment when she makes the express decision to flush her meds down the toilet, fully aware that this is a thing that could spiral out of control. It’ll be okay, she justifies to herself, the placebo effect of having some semblance of control allowing the creativity that she’d bee struggling for days to find to flow back in.
As a character, Didi draws you in. Having read a number of Kate’s books, I would have to say that she is definitely my most favorite female protagonist among the bunch because she’s independent with a strong sense of self (a trademark of Miss Evangelista’s heroines in general) and at the same time vulnerable without feeling like a victim of her circumstances. She’s relatable and honestly quite admirable – even in moments that gave me pause to say “hon, please don’t, that’s really not a good idea.”
On the flipside, there’s Caleb. A boy who’s practically boycotted the idea of love because he’s seen how it can break his father, since the death of his mother changed a once loving man into a cold sonofabitch who takes refuge only in his work. It could be so easy to say that Caleb’s got rich-kid problems, but the way that we discover the root of all his apprehensions and angst, and how these are subtly underscored in his interactions with the supporting cast, it’s hard to say that you can’t help but feel for the guy. Teetering on that thin tightrope of feelings and denial as he gradually falls for someone who just sees him for him and calls him consistently on his bullshit gets you runing a tally on the number of times you go oh, sweet summer child you’re so gone and you don’t even realize it yet.
After all, he’s pretty sold on the belief that love can do so much damage once (not if) everything goes south – and he wants nothing to do with that. But he falls anyway, and that road to honesty with himself is such a satisfying thing to follow.
Take these two characters in a situation where they agree NOT to fall for each other and you have a story that wrings the heart not because it’s a book that cautions a reader into the issues of falling for someone who might be otherwise deemed as “broken”. Instead, it’s a read that leaves you with that silver lining of optimism and hope that everyone who wants love, can and will find it if they just give love a chance. Note, that when I use “broken”, I’m not talking about Didi — because Caleb’s just as messed up inside.
Given the growing awareness towards understanding the stigmas, issues and concerns surrounding mental illness that are taking center stage with the current generation of readers, I find it refreshing that this book doesn’t preach about what to do or how to be – it just tells a story of two people who fall in love and who just also happen to struggle with issues that deserve a place to be talked about.
Favorite takeaways from the book:
- How the twosome’s first non-date at McDonald’s eventually comes full circle. I honestly thought it was a cute way for the author to bridge the divide between Didi and Caleb’s worlds, focusing not on the whole rich boy meets girl next door but on how two characters with differing backgrounds carve out a space for themselves without cancelling out the other.
- The character Nathan, who is Caleb’s cousin and one of the first people to just click with Didi in terms of personality and wit. He’s getting a book eventually, but I’ll leave my thoughts on him for another time.
- When Caleb finds all of the paintings Didi made in her period of mania and the subsequent conversation he had with her mother about how he didn’t see “crazy” and wasn’t about to bail, all the while acknowledging that he would never have encouraged her to compromise her health for his sake. Like I said, this isn’t an issue book. and I can appreciate how it does delve a little into the delicate subject of loving someone who struggles with mental health concerns.
If you’re an avid romance reader looking for something new to look forward to, I highly encourage putting “No Love Allowed” on your Get This In 2016 list. I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. Besides, it’ll be nice to have company in waiting for the rest of the trilogy :”3
“No Love Allowed” by Kate Evangelista hits bookstores all over in April 2016. For more information on the author, mosey on down to http://www.kateevangelista.com and please also do check out Swoon Reads at http://www.swoonreads.com.