Two high school friends try to reconnect in this coming-of-age romance.
Senior Jessie Baxter is deeply in love with her best friend, Lee Archer, the quarterback of the high school football team in Newport Falls, on Lake Michigan, in 1983. Lee is likewise attracted to Jessie but cannot tear himself away from manipulative Tina Asta, despite their stormy relationship—and her other conquests. Cajoled by her friend Sarah Griffin, Jessie finds the courage to ask Lee on a date to the final school dance. He says yes but leaves her on the dance floor to argue—and then go home with—Tina. A dejected Jessie hooks up with Billy Walker. Becoming fed up with Tina and needing to escape his abusive stepfather, Lee takes off for Chicago, where he trains as a cop and romances Violetta De Luca, the sister of a close friend. Jessie attends college, becomes a journalist in Milwaukee, and marries Billy. Lee, who had worried that a romance with Jessie would adversely affect their friendship, now realizes that a relationship with Violetta without love will not work. Jessie’s marriage ends in divorce due to Billy’s controlling behavior and alcoholism. Finally a detective, Lee moves back to Newport Falls and Jessie visits for her 10-year class reunion—organized by Tina, who has taken up with Billy but still wants her old high school boyfriend back. Billy, obsessed with his ex-wife, stalks Jessie around town, calling her incessantly and even breaking into her apartment while she is out. This is McKenna’s (Venice in the Moonlight, 2013, etc.) first modern novel after her historical romances and she adroitly captures the angst and snarkiness of high school. At one point, Jessie asserts: “I have to go fail a physics quiz.” The characters are richly complicated, and even Tina reveals the vulnerable girl inside. The only one without nuance is Billy, whose sole purpose seems to be playing the villain when Lee reappears in Jessie’s life. In addition, it is unclear why Jessie remains with Billy throughout college. There are also some anachronisms: The 911 call system was not yet implemented in the Lake Michigan area in 1983, and “waterboarding” was not a household word in the early ’90s. The chapter headings have precise dates but readers do not need them to enjoy this appealing love story.
Funny, tender, and intelligent escapism.