You know that line from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, he will come”? For some reason, when I think of Ilsa Madden-Mills, I think “if she writes it, I will buy.” It is second nature for me to get excited for her books and covet them. She has this way of infusing humor and angst and characters with complicated pasts into her stories that you simply cannot stop reading. It’s like driving past an accident, you know you have to look. When Ilsa Madden-Mills writes a book, it has to go instantly into your Kindle library to read immediately. At least that’s the case with me.
Boyfriend Bargain is no different. I’m actually excited for the possibilities for any future books, as she has written a story rife with character stories that need to find purchase in other books. I’m talking specifically of the ancillary characters to Sugar and Zack (or Z), the stars of this book.
Like the ancillary characters, Sugar and Z are complicated and multi-dimensional. They bring such depth to this story of opposites attracting. Both are college students in their senior year. Sugar’s life is difficult. Her mother died when she was younger; she has a guardian, but she has had to work very hard for every penny to attend college. She carries with her “daddy issues” because he abandoned her, leaving a wake of hurt. Her sole purpose is proving that she is “good enough,” when she grew up feeling like an afterthought.
I felt myself in her story. Like Sugar, I too have “daddy issues” growing up feeling abandoned. In reading her pain on the page and understanding her initial reticence towards Z, I understood. I felt her feelings and knew her thoughts because I have felt and thought as she did. Madden-Mills captures her angst and fear beautifully on the page.
Z comes from a wealthy family, and it has been seemingly easy. He is the star hockey player at the university, a top draft pick destined for the NHL. However, he carries anxiety over high expectations for himself and guilt from a trauma in his teens. His story is a story for today, a time when mental health issues are receiving focus in the media for important reasons. With his story, Madden-Mills connects us to this timely topic, and his story reminds us of the importance of dealing with our feelings in meaningful and clinical ways.
Together, Z and Sugar fight against each other. I’ll be honest. There was a moment in their relationship when I didn’t know if I’d survive them. My heart hurt for their struggles, but I realized that this is life. Madden-Mills shows us, through their story, that we have to accept ourselves, make peace with our pasts, and live for today because this is all that we have.
Boyfriend Bargain is a poignant story of letting go to find love. Z and Sugar’s story is engaging and fiery and heartfelt. Ilsa Madden-Mills “built” a beautiful love story with her book, and this reader “came” to read and connect with the genius of a complicated, but satisfying story of opposites finding love and each other.
In love and romance,