A delightful rom-com
This book started breaking my heart from the very beginning, even as it made me laugh. A quarter in, I knew it was touching something very intimate in me, about friendship and caring (or not caring) about people, about needing them (or not needing them) in one’s life.
Charlotte Albright is back in Oxford for a fresh start and a new job but how is she supposed to start anew when one of the first people she comes across is the former best friend she cut from her life? Then her mother announces… I’ll stop here, you’ll find out for yourself but ugh, poor Charlotte.
Clare Ashton always writes fantastic characters. Charlotte and Millie became best friends almost from the day they met in their first year of law school. They’re complete opposites and perfect for each other because of that. Charlotte is tall and lanky, always stooping under the weight of her respected barrister mother’s expectations and comparisons to her seemingly perfect sister. She’s quietly brilliant, a hard worker who misses out on promotions because she’s not loud or assertive enough. Millie is brash and sassy, all curves and unabashed sensuality, going through men like Kit Kats, easygoing and unbothered by whatever people think. Surprisingly, Charlotte’s mother loves Millie, who was the most promising student, and whom she wished to mentor. While Millie’s mum (who raised her on her own and is the best role model) is completely supportive of her change of careers, Charlotte’s is mystified by it.
Another person who doesn’t understand how Millie, as talented a lawyer as she was, could step away from such a lucrative career is Olivia, Charlotte’s former college mother. A senior partner in the law firm Charlotte recently joined, she always looks out for her, and is very distrustful of Millie, for almost everything she is but first of all for breaking Charlotte’s heart once already. I love Olivia, she’s bitchy and cold (though not always), in awe of Charlotte’s mother, completely embarrassed by her own very warm and loving mum (whom Charlotte adores). This is Clare Ashton‘s first series and I hope Olivia gets her own ice queen-y book.
Before it turns to romance, Meeting Millie is a story of friendship. Things might change faster in Charlotte’s mind but for Millie, for years, it’s all about friendship. Being soulmates, which doesn’t always mean being lovers. When Millie lost her best friend, her heart broke, as painfully if not more than if they’d been a couple. The heartbreak is real for Millie, even before her feelings for Charlotte change, and when they get reacquainted as adults, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get her friend back.
And of course, this book also turns an extremely close friendship into something else, not necessarily something more but definitely something with added layers, and I don’t know how my heart is supposed to deal with all these beautiful emotions. Because Ashton, as usual, handles it with both humour and sensitivity, navigating every slippery slope masterfully.
Would Millie’s feelings for Charlotte have evolved the way they did had she not gone through the ordeal that made her whole world explode? The idea that losing the life she knew is the reason other possibilities – specifically, Charlotte – occurred to her would make me slightly uncomfortable if I didn’t get the impression the feelings were always there and all that was missing was Millie’s awareness not of the feelings themselves but of what they meant to her.
In another book I read recently (Hero Complex by Jesse J Thoma, review to come), one of the MCs explains that there are three people in each of us: the person strangers and distant acquaintances see, the person people who know us see, and the person we think we are. None is whole or one hundred per cent accurate. Millie was convinced she was straight, until she wasn’t. Despite queer people being a lot more visible than we used to be, despite representation having grown exponentially almost everywhere, a lot of people still realize later in life. And thirty-two (Millie’s age) really isn’t that old to find out, it takes some people much longer, for all sorts of reasons. Visibility and representation are only one facet of what makes someone come into themselves. Every journey is unique and they’re all valid.
I’ll end this review with two asides. First of all, the cover artist is Leni Kauffman, who also illustrates Ashley Herring Blake’s Bright Falls books (Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail, Iris Kelly Doesn’t Date) and she did a wonderful job of representing the characters and mood of the story. And those curves…
Second, how would I not love a book which includes sentences like this one: “(Charlotte) had the finesse of a giraffe roller skating when it came to dealing with attractive women”? The description is so perfectly Charlotte and the words are so perfectly Millie, I dare you not to fall in love with these two. 4.5 stars.