Other Girls by Avery Brooks is a second chance enemies to lovers romance with more than a little angst. It is not, however, a blue tale and has many warm moments. You may need a tissue or two at times, but it is written with such a light touch that your emotions never get to the dark side. Samantha Parker is bringing up her son Jake as a single parent after her wife died suddenly with a brain aneurysm. She has struggled over the past three years with being a widow and giving the best life she can to her son while working full time as part of a marketing team. Her life has leveled out, and Sam has her nights out with her best friend Drea and her games with the softball team. Social events have helped to center her, and she doesn’t expect any more from her life.
An unexpected meeting with Ashley Valence, whom she hasn’t seen since high school, threatens to disrupt Sam’s life. Ash was part of a group of bullies that made Sam’s life hell at high school, and it becomes evident that the effects are still lingering. It doesn’t help when Ash frequents the same gay bar and joins the same softball team.
Sam and Ash keep meeting and thus begins the story.
Sam has put her life on hold since the death of her wife, Anna. Her grief made her life a struggle at the beginning, but her mother pushed her to get some counseling, and it helped. Sam works in New Orleans in a local marketing firm where her team consistently does well, although the praise continually goes to a male colleague. Her journey through the story is full of self- doubt as the life she knows becomes full of change, the change caused by Ashley Valence, and her presence in it. I love this self-examination because Sam finds that what she thought of her relationship with her mother, her best friend and her son are all different from her new perspective.
Ash has come home to New Orleans, finally accepting she has missed her hometown and can accept herself for who she is and what she has done wrong in the past. Her past includes being the ever-present lieutenant to the high-school bully Jackie, and their treatment of Sam in particular. Once she and Sam have bumped into each other, Ash tries to get to apologize to Sam, but Sam’s anger gets in the way, and there are several loud ‘spats’ between the two women.
Drea is Sam’s best friend, and I love her. She’s committed to her friendship with Sam and has supported her ever since they were in school. Drea is fun, loving and often looks after Jake leading him astray. She enjoys pranks with everyone in her life and loves women in the plural, never committing to any.
The Writing Style
Other Girls doesn’t read like a first book; it has a mature style to it, with a light touch. The story moves along at a good pace, and the characters are all on formative journeys that come to life as they journey. I did find one or two of Sam’s self-examination sections a little too often repeated. But it is only a small criticism when the subject of bullying and the internal thoughts it brings about have been narrated so well.
There are many layers to the story, and I don’t want to give anything away, but Brooks has handled those different layers exceptionally well.
It is interesting that the love-affair Brooks has with New Orleans itself comes out in the story and provides a superb backdrop to all that is happening. I almost put New Orleans in the character section above! The descriptions come alive because Brooks ensures that each of the places has significant meaning to the characters, and their passing through or seeing the places is important.
Where to start with the pros?
I think the handling of bullying has got to be one of the best things about this story. It is there, it happened, and we are a party to it. But somehow, the handling in Sam’s journey didn’t drag me down or make me sad. There were moments of drama that lead to both sadness and joy, and I got all the feelings.
I loved the way that the relationships between Sam, her mother, and Jake are layered. I get that saying ‘what goes around, comes around’ and the way Brooks explores the similarities is exquisite.
Finally, the homage to New Orleans has love all over it.
I have to mention the bullying of teenage Sam, and it may be a trigger to some people. However, as a victim myself, I found I was able to cope with it all.
Other Girls is one of those books that, when you think of it, you immediately think of the romance and the emotion of love of person and place. It then pulls you to consider the love of mother and child, before handing you over to the love of friends. Before you know it, you are thinking about how something terrible as a youngster can affect you throughout your life and that it is possible to rise through and above it—a story of success.
Excerpt from Other Girls by Avery Brooks
“Oh, is this yours?” Ashley asked Jake, holding up the toy in her hand.
“Yeah! His name is Tony. Do you want to see what he can do?” Jake asked excitedly.
“Sure!” Ashley responded with a grin, handing Tony back to his rightful owner.
Sam stood there, rooted to the spot, staring at the exchange. Alarm bells sounded in her head—the same kind you hear when your child is in immediate danger. Her body buzzed with adrenaline and yet she couldn’t move. She swallowed hard, forcing herself to notice the families around them, reminding herself where they were and that nothing bad was going to happen. Right?
Jake was engrossed with Tony, contorting the tiny man into a small jet, then making engine noises as he pretended to fly it through the air. He had no idea his mom was having an emotional breakdown only a few feet away.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Ashley said. She looked back up at Sam and smiled. “Hello, Samantha. It’s been a long time.”
Bile worked its way up into Sam’s throat as the alarm bells rose to nuclear strength.
Fuck. She does remember me.
“Come here, Jake!” Sam nearly shrieked, in an octave usually reserved for times she found herself alone in the shower with a spider.
Jake’s body instantly stilled at the sound of Sam’s voice and he scurried the few feet back to her side.
Sam wrapped her arm across his chest, holding him close.
The sirens in Sam’s head quieted as Ashley held her gaze. Ashley glanced at the other blonde woman at the table, who was watching Sam with a look of concern on her face.
“Samantha?” Ashley asked with hesitation, the smile fading from her face.
Sam swallowed again. “Hi . . . Ashley. It has been a long time,” she managed to stammer.
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Bits and Bobs
ISBN number: 9781612941677
Publisher: Bywater Books
Avery Brooks Online
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