In this witty contemporary romance, we follow office manager Sam in her developing career as an assistant for a Boudoir photography studio. She's eventually given the grand task of executing a photography bus idea for a summer festival, exciting but overwhelming. She's grumpy, smart and strategic with a love for to-do lists and strikingly gorgeous.
Russ is used to moving around but has recently settled back to Chicago with a mutual group of friends shared with Sam. He's used to unpredictability. He's trying hard to navigate his career, with ambitions of becoming a chef. He's also set with a big task of helping execute a food bus at a summer festival. He's level-headed, goofy, and attractive with a massive crush on Sam.
At its core, this book does an excellent job of illustrating the different dynamics of relationships including romantic, familial and platonic and the complexities of them. I absolutely love that we get to see healthy, supportive friendships between women which overlapped with work. In contrast, we see some unhealthy family dynamics as toxic relationships in Russ's childhood are unravelled, similar to Sam, an unfortunate element they can relate to in different ways. We interestingly see how Russ copes with trauma and how Sam's experiences shape her expectations for love, particularly the behaviour of men. Although there is hurt revealed within some of these relationships, there's also potential for healing and transformation.
I cherished Russ's attention to detail to little things about Sam and being a good listener. How he remembered specific elements such as a drink she pretended to hate but secretly loved and seeing his consistent support towards her career was so precious.
An extremely necessary topic discussed was Sam's diagnosis of Graves' disease, an autoimmune disorder that negatively impacts the thyroid hormones. One of the markers of the illness included experiencing a change in weight, which lead to Sam struggling with self-perception and desirability. The author's choice to integrate these feelings felt like an attempt to normalise the discussion of chronic illnesses. We also dive into other implications of her diagnosis including the harsh reality of adjusting to a body that she failed to recognise. It was empowering to see Sam's body confidence journey evolve throughout.
I believe this element can teach us to be patient with ourselves as body acceptance and navigating health issues can be challenging and promotes compassion towards others. Jackson demonstrates that despite our appearance or state of health, we're still worthy of love and affection. In addition, having representation from plus-size women, Dana and Cassie was refreshing to see.
Initially, I struggled to learn the characters as I felt too many were introduced at once. However, as time progressed, I became more familiar with them and can see how having many characters could create a nice sense of community and allow readers to feel immersed in their lives.
To some extent, I feel the story could be condensed for the sake of the plot and Russ and Sam's journey. Certain aspects felt repeated e.g. Sam's illness and Russ's childhood.
Overall, a noteworthy lesson I learned is that even if you're a strategic planner with a to-do list like Sam, there are some things you simply can't plan in life and that's the magical mystery of it all. Whether that be career, relationships or love. Sometimes the happy "accidents" are the best ones.