Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️+
So, what constitutes a happy ending? I was just telling a friend of mine that the romance community forgives just about any sin of a romance couple as long as there is a semblance of a happy ending to end out a book, duet, trilogy, or series. It’s our final act of forgiveness. But what happens when the “happily ever after” isn’t what you expect? What happens if “happy” is framed in a different way than you might want? I call that provocative. And I think it’s the reason you should be reading Carmen Jenner’s newest book, Styx & Stones.
I need to state that I had not read the lead-up book to this one, Harley & Rose. What captured my attention and engaged me was the first line of the book’s blurb: “cancer sucks. And then you die.” How does one craft a story between two teenagers with cancer and create that obligatory “happy ending?” That was my question. Having not read Carmen Jenner before or the book prior to this one, I went in blind, not knowing what to expect. This is what I found:
*This book is more novella than a novel. It’s short at, I believe, 125 words. And you will gobble it down like a snack. Jenner keeps the reader engaged in this story of two teenagers who attend the same high school and find each other during chemo treatments. Styx is the hero. His cancer is back, and his prognosis isn’t good. Stones aka Alaska is new to cancer. Styx has loved Alaska from afar, and cancer brings them together. With his past experience with cancer, he helps her navigate the trauma of cancer and chemotherapy, and they eventually fall in love. However, both feel their days are few. How can they love each other when they have an impending end? Herein lies the genius of this book.
*You need to prepare yourself for the ending of this story. Styx lays this book out in the “Prologue.” You need to know: he isn’t lying. Trust him. He’s a straight-shooter. He says what is unpopular, and he treats life as temporary. As such, Jenner is going to give you a happily-ever-forever that you don’t expect. Be ready to accept it because I think it’s an important one in the discussion of cancer and death.
*This book is really an ode to people who have suffered with or had loved ones who have been touched by the ravages of cancer. This book is really a romance of sorts with that disease. Jenner offers insight into this life because she needs us to know its temporality. And the idea that love can exist there.
*I loved that Alaska and Styx’s first $ex is messy and uncomfortable. Neither is skilled. Jenner could have followed the pattern of others who have written YA/NA and crafted teens as skilled lovers. That isn’t the case here. However, Styx is a worthy student, and his love for Alaska makes him hungry for her. It was equal parts awkward and sweet.
*Yes, these two are teenagers, but Jenner gives them old souls. Even when they act like teenagers, you recognize the depth of their souls and their love for each other. That’s the essence of this story: their abiding love for each other, crafted in a short time under intense circumstances, but deep nonetheless.
If you have ever walked this journey or walked with someone else, this book could be a trigger for you. But I’d love for everyone to read it because Carmen Jenner is playing with the “happily-ever-after” here in a genre that thrives on it. Ultimately, Jenner’s Styx and Stones reminds us all that tomorrow is not promised, so love deeply, and find your “forever” with someone, even when it might not be there tomorrow.
In love and romance,