I was really excited to read this book as all of my friends had rated this book 4's and 5's and raved about how the romance was slow-building and felt genuine. And while I liked it, it didn't quite grab me like I had hoped.
It's true that there is no insta-love, but I wouldn't quite consider it that slow-building, as they fall in love within the first 200 pages. Perhaps it was my expectations being built up that made me feel this way though. (Shame on me for reading too many reviews beforehand).
But this book was obviously meant to build on the struggles of a new relationship and in that it was very successful.
The struggle that they each went through to reach the point where they were able to admit their feelings for each other did feel sincere. Even people with less difficult pasts than theirs can have a hard time putting themselves out there to possibly be rejected. There was one passage when they are laying in bed together, after they've fallen in love but before they've admitted it to each other, which summed up these feelings for me.
"Touch me, she thought, like nobody ever did before...Make it not important that I'm plain and unpretty and more pregnant than I wish I was. You're the man, Will - don't you see? A man's got to reach first.
But he couldn't. Not first.
Touch me, he thought...Let me know it's alright for me to have these feelings for you. Nobody's ever cared enough to touch me for years and years. But you've got to reach first, don't you see? Because of how you felt about him, and what I am, what I did, what we agreed to the first day I came her."
This perfectly exemplified those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy that can plague people early in a relationship which felt very well done.
And when they finally do admit their love for each other:
"Nobody had prepared him for this, nobody had said, When it happens you'll be resurrected. All that you were you will not be. All that you weren't, you are."
But their struggles don't end there. Once they feel like they've reached a good place they have to deal with war, other women and a murder trial - all to come out stronger on the other side.
What I also thought Spencer did really well was convey Will's feelings of being unlovable and his difficult relationship with women and family. One of the things that Will is drawn to about Elly is that she is such a loving mother. Having been given up by his own mother, this is something he has missed his entire life. But Will's feelings in having Elly take care of him, becoming a father to her sons and forming a loving family was really touching.
Beyond the story, there was the writing. Spencer really took the time to set the scenes with extensive descriptive language (maybe a tad too much even?) It was the use of this language though that elevated this beyond being an easy, typical romance. Spencer could definitely spin a sentence when she wanted to:
[Will remembering how the prison guards would taunt the hungry men with promises of food] "To ask was to put power into the sadistic hands of those who already wielded enough of it to dehumanize any who chose to cross them."
Despite all of this, for some reason I didn't get quite so emotionally invested in Elly and Will as I have in characters from other books before. And for that, this book didn't reach the levels I was hoping for. Near the end of the book, when Miss Beasley is yelling at Will for how he treated Elly, I did start to tear up with emotion, but unfortunately that was the only time.