“They are right. Every day she lives, she fights, she wins.” Simon
When I finished reading a book the other day, I noticed that I had been gifted with an ARC of Saffron A. Kent’s newest book, Medicine Man. I was ecstatic as I hadn’t expected it; instead, I had been patiently waiting for its release. With all of the buzz she was creating about the book in her Saffron’s Purple Hearts FB group, I was intrigued with the premise of the book: the forbidden romance between a patient institutionalized in a mental health facility and one of its psychiatrists. Now, I don’t profess to have read many romance novels (maybe 300 to date), so my experience with different romance tropes might be new. However, I have not come across this type of forbidden romance, and I was hungry to check it out.
Medicine Man is the story of Willow, the patient in the mental health facility, and Simon Blackwood, a psychiatrist and son of the founding psychiatrist of the mental health facility. This story follows their individual struggles to overcome their pasts, their conditions, and the expectations of the people in their lives. Intermeshed in these struggles is their romance, which, while front and center, to me, is actually secondary to their individual struggles. Only when they overcome their personal demons are they able to finally find true love with each other.
Simon and Willow are some of my most recent favorite characters. I often see women post in fan Facebook groups about “book boyfriends.” Simon comes pretty close to being my book boyfriend. Now, to be fair, he is broken. He makes choices for he and Willow that tank their relationship, but his tenderness and protectiveness of Willow makes the reader ache for him. His words spoken over her “illness” empower her and help her overcome her personal demons without solving them for her. This is the type of man who is every romance readers dream: handsome, sexy, empowering, and broken (at least those are my favorite qualities).
Willow’s journey cut my soul. Saffron A. Kent’s words placed in Willow’s mouth are profound as we feel the depth of Willow’s illness. Her ability to be the warrior that Simon calls her provides a strong female model for readers. She’s young and should be ignorant to the world, but she isn’t. She becomes Simon’s savior from himself.
What I loved the most about these characters, though, is their ability to be a little “crazy” for each other. I don’t want to elaborate on it because I want readers to experience their crazy in the story.
I was nervous going into the reading of the story. I struggle at times with the forbidden romance trope. As a professor myself, I cannot always connect with the professor-student forbidden romance (although after reading this book, I quickly gobbled Kent’s The Unrequited, and it’s my favorite professor-student romance EVER). I was worried that I would feel the same with this book. And I never did. The story is told so well that it seems natural, even, necessary, that Simon and Willow end up together. I think the reason it doesn’t seem strange or unnatural is the book’s story of depression. To me, that was the most profound part of this story that it became the part I loved the most. Witnessing Willow’s struggles, hearing her words about deliverance from her unhappiness, overwhelmed my emotions at times, and it made Simon and Willow’s relationship necessary. Without his insight, she would have always viewed herself as broken and damaged: “But the thing that bothers me the most is that I was born with something more than blood in my veins. Something extra-terrestrial, alien, quite possibly blue-colored –hence the weird, un-Taylor color of my eyes. Something dark and shadowy, with long claw-like fingers. Something that has weighed me down all my life.” Their relationship becomes the impetus for her empowerment over her illness and his ability to forgive his father and stop living in the past. While seemingly forbidden, their story never feels wrong.
Sexiness Quotient: 💙💙💙💙💙
Because this exists in a mental institution, their first true intimate act takes quite a bit of time in the story to happen, so the sex part of this romance is a bit of a slow burn at first. After their first sexual encounter, it is a free for all, and it’s pretty hot. Nothing is better than sex with the possibility of being found out, so every time they connect, the sexual chemistry and tension is palpable. Given that Simon is quite a bit older than Willow, he takes on the role of teacher to Willow, but they become addicted to each other’s bodies, and it’s fantastic.
Okay, so beyond the brilliance of her character development and masterful storytelling, this is the area where I think Saffron A. Kent is brilliant. I posted out on Facebook to her about my many highlights of her book as I was reading it. Her words are weighted and lovely and transcendent in composition. I am calling her the mistress of, what I’m calling, the punctuating simple sentence or fragment. When she creates these simple sentences and fragments, it adds weight to her characters’ thinking and actions. It is stunning to read these golden nuggets of language throughout a story.
I fell madly in love with this book. I began it on a Monday night after teaching two classes of college writing, and I finished it on a Tuesday evening. I simply could not put it down. Saffron A. Kent’s story breathes out understanding about the personal difficulties of living with depression. She gives Simon the words to heal Willow’s sense of herself as deficient. She gives Willow words of love to help Simon transcend his past. This story becomes more about personal healing and acceptance than its romance. When a story can move beyond a basic trope of forbidden love and offer a greater insight into a struggle of our society, then I think the writer allows the art to become something bigger than its most basic self.