Carmen always had a wild streak about her while growing up in this small town. Everyone use to say her only saving grace in this world was her best friend Walker who tried to keep the flighty girl grounded. But life was too big for her to live in this one stop light kind of town; she had dreams and wants that could take her anywhere but staying there. Anything was better than being stuck in the perpetuating cycle of being born and dying in this hell hole she called the reality of a small town girl.
Walker was the only anchor that could hold her home, she lived for that boy. So how do you explain to someone that staying there would only suffocate the possibilities of making a better life for oneself? Running away was the only option, and leaving a piece of her heart with him would keep her strong out in the real world, at least she hoped it would.
After years of trying to make it on her own, struggling through life and trying to stay clean, the only reality she sees at surviving now is going back to the place she tried so hard to break free from. Unsure if her old life is willing to accept the choices she has made, the lone thought that matters to her is hoping she still has the only man she has counted on her entire life in her corner. You can always go home, but will they be willing to take you back?
First Part 3 Stars/ Second Part 3.5 Stars
As you can tell by my rating, I was completely torn on this book. After reading the blurb I have to admit I made an ass out of myself by assuming it was a typical small town boy meets girl love story. Cue the BUZZER sound; that was as far from the truth as if I were to say I don’t find tattooed bad boys attractive. Carmen Westin is an eager beaver ready to flee from the small town lifestyle; she quotes “Refused to die in this one stop light kind of town.”
She has had a tough upbringing; both her parents were addicted to drugs that resulted in them giving her up at the age of eight to the care of her grandparents. Unfortunately for Carmen, this stigma of having druggie parents is a cloud that continues to hoover over her due to the small knit community where everyone knows her background.
However, while reading I never came across an attempt by Carmen to change how people perceived her. Instead she lies down and doesn’t fight to prove the town wrong.
“No one expected me to do anything with my life anyhow, might as well live up to their expectations right?”
It is completely understandable that after enduring the harsh perceptions of the small town that Carmen would want to find solace in another city. When Graduation comes she is ready to break out to follow her dreams. I was excited but then I realized we never find out what her goals are for her future. Rather all we hear is how she can’t wait to leave this town, or dreams of her name in lights—what do you want your name in lights for? Acting? Singing? She leaves after graduation without saying goodbyes to her best friend Walker and her grandparents, leaving them with no inclination of where she was headed. I mean she hitchhikes out of town WTF?
Where the heroine is stubbornly (borderline dumb) independent and dissatisfied with small town life, her best friend Walker Mason, all-star athlete (yummy until he opens his mouth and whines too much) is the polar opposite. I do believe in the case of these two friends opposites do attract. He is the stereotypical “golden boy” of the small town. He literally is there for Carmen in any and every situation
“This was the man who would pick me up and brought me home from school, always made sure I had eaten a meal, held my hair back when I partook in too much alcohol, and loved me unconditionally…I was Carmen the screw up, the girl who would never be good enough for Walker the town prince.”
We get both POVs which is more frustrating in the first part of the book than insightful. I wanted to slap both of these characters several times. Carmen is so unconfident that she refuses to think Walker could love her more than friends. Walker is too much of a pansy to fight to get her to stay. One minute he talks about how much he loves her:
“So to hear that she is still hell bent on leaving this town basically breaks my heart in two. I have loved that girl since I laid eyes on her walking into Miss Treva’s third grade.”
Okay he’s loved her for that long, then a switch flips and he says stuff like:
“I had to take control of my future; I knew she wasn’t going to be a part of it so might as well find someone else to have a little fun with.”
UGHH *Pulling my hair*
I do not want to ruin too much of the climaxes that Carmen endures on her own while she chases her “dreams” in California. Let’s just say she continues to fall until she reaches rock bottom. I will mention that part of her downfall deals with drugs. I have to say this surprised me, as much as she fought to be nothing like her parents only partaking in alcohol or as she referred to “light stuff not heavy stuff.” All I could do was shake my head as Carmen continued to make bad decision after bad decision. It takes quite a few until she gets a wake- up call.
While Carmen spirals to the bottom, back in small town South Dakota, Walker captures his dream of joining the sheriff’s department.
I am so happy we have some constant secondary characters in the second part of the book. They are a huge reason the second half was better for me; especially Walker’s partners at the police department—Derek and Bridger. They crack me up and they call Walker out on many occasions which have me shouting “FINALLY!!!”
“It’s been over a year, stop fucking sulking and deal with shit…Eventually you need to stop fucking being a pansy. Get off your ass and live again. Go get your dick sucked, have a one night stand, hell have a threesome! Just start living.” (Derek)
Or even better quote
“Shit please princess, you’re more emotional than my thirteen year old sister.” (Bridger)
Couldn’t have said it better myself. The author really improves with canny banter in this half. Walker truly was the best friend anyone could have. He becomes Carmen’s knight and shining armor once again after six years of no word. I did feel the reunion was not that realistic. They never talk about her abrupt departure after graduation it’s just swept under the rug. However, we do see tremendous growth from both characters as the story winds to a close. Walker gains some back bone and Carmen matures which makes her a more likeable heroine.
“I realized he wanted me to join him and for a split second contemplated running again. But look at how well running worked out for me last time, epic failure.”
It is so refreshing to see, rather than putting the blame on other people, she has grown to accept her faults and decides to learn from them. In the last 25% of the book there is some suspense that was thrown in from left field but enjoyable nonetheless. The ending I would give 4 stars. Do not cross off this author. In this one book you get the opportunity to see her writing skills/style progress; I look forward to seeing what else she has in store.
“I can never explain completely why I ran away all those years ago, but I know what brought me back. Walker.”
~ Review by Tori
T.A. Hardenbrook currently resides in Spokane Washington with her husband and two young boys. She has a degree in Early Childhood Education as well as her license in Cosmetology in which she still does part time.
Her days include being the family chauffer and referee, all while trying to become the perfect domestic goddess one strives for. Her family of four also includes a very loving American pit bull terrier, a wirehaired dachshund, a corn snake, and an American cavy (Which her oldest son shows at ARBA/ACBA events).
Being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2013, life became a struggle and she found learning to adapt was not an easy task. Luckily with the help of daily medication, life is slowly returning back to normal. Having the opportunity to write a novel at this time was a huge boost of confidence in dealing with the disorder, being able to use her hands and type, was therapy for the soul.
Please remember to never let anything stand in front of your dreams.