A new favourite by G Benson
I usually begin my reviews with a quick synopsis, but I’ll keep this one especially short since the whole story is about two people discovering each other and I don’t want to spoil even in the slightest. You need to know close to nothing in order to fall in love along with them. All I’ll say is that after a car accident sends Wren Acker, one of the most famous actresses in the world, to the hospital, she is tended to by Madison Taylor, with whom she spent a few interesting weeks at summer camp when they were nine. Twenty-five years later, Madison still holds a grudge and the reunion is uncomfortable, to say the least.
I smiled so much reading this book that my cheeks hurt. The first chapter had me grinning almost immediately. Not from the first sentences since that’s the car accident but almost right after. Wren is extremely lovable and she alone would make me grin all day, but then there are all the others, the friendship with her co-star Trinity, her best friend Felix, the relationship with her mother, who is also her agent, and much less of a cliché than she could have been… And the push and pull with Madison is gold. So many smiles and grins and smirks. It wouldn’t be a G Benson book, however, if there wasn’t heartbreaking material as well, but Benson can make me cry and be grateful for it and that in itself is some sort of miracle.
While my love for Wren is straightforward, my love for Madison comes in many layers. Her ambivalence towards Wren, her desire to keep disliking her even as she falls for her, is the sweetest thing. They have so much chemistry and they complement each other so obviously that resistance is futile, but Madison still tries, for all sorts of reasons, all valid. There was never a moment when I rolled my eyes or shook my head, frustrated with either of them. Benson takes her time getting her characters to see the light and it’s exquisite. When it finally comes, that first kiss had me swooning and smiling and awwing, because it’s cute and hot at the same time.
Madison is also special to me for the way the author describes her living with ADHD. There are more and more neurodivergent characters in sapphic fiction, which is a very welcome evolution, and Madison is one of the best I’ve encountered. Benson strikes the perfect balance, the way Madison thinks and processes fundamental to who she is while not defining her. She’s complex and lovely. You’d think I have a crush on her from the way I speak about her but, you know, that wouldn’t be the most absurd thing. She really is crush-worthy.
The story and the emotions rise crescendo, they start light and fun then grow deeper and deeper but, as is usually the case with this author, never get heavy or stifling. They simply grow. By the end of the book, I had so many feelings, all of them good, I never wanted it to end. There’s so much love and tenderness and respect and understanding that even the parts that broke my heart left me with a sense of hope and possibilities. And none of it feels artificial or unrealistic. The characters are completely relatable, which is a real feat considering one of the MCs is a four-time Oscar-winning actress and the other a highly-regarded doctor and I’m so far from either of these things. And yet, they felt like people I could meet and become friends with. In a way, because of this tangible humanity, they reminded me of Meg and Sanne in Cari Hunter’s Dark Peak trilogy. The books couldn’t be less alike, but the characters feel just as real.
What got to me the most, I think, is the tenderness, the tenderness Wren and Madison feel for each other and the tenderness the author obviously has for her characters. That, and all the smiling and that featherlight feeling when I turned the last page. Like candyfloss with substance, delightful yet meaningful.
I would love for this story to come to audio. Natalie Naudus and Melissa Moran are the two (very different) narrators whose names came to mind. The former would also be perfect for Dead Lez Walking, come to think of it. Who knows, maybe someone with the power to make these two audiobooks happen will read this… 5 stars.