Overall Rating: 5 Stars
While I have this anthology sitting on my Kindle, it came as an ARC late this weekend and I haven’t had a chance to read it in its entirety. That being said, I will be updating this in the next couple of days to offer insight into the other stories in this anthology. Needless to say, I’m very excited to read stories from my favorite authors like Kennedy Ryan, Sara Ney, and Charleigh Rose, among others.
What I’d like to focus this review to is Ilsa Madden-Mills’s story, “Dear Ava,” a novella set in Camden Prep Academy. It’s been some time since we’ve read a Madden-Mills’s story set in high school, and it reads like “going home.” This story follows the dual perspectives of Ava and Knox. These characters sit at different economic and popularity spectrums at Camden: Ava is poor while Knox is wealthy and the QB of the football team, as well as the head of the Sharks, an exclusive group at Camden. From the outset, nothing seems right for these two, but nothing is ever as it seems.
This story is an important one as it deals with the topic of sexual assault. Madden-Mills is careful here to illustrate the importance of seeking help, but this story is more about the aftermath. It’s about the ways in which seemingly opposites attract even when they don’t make sense on paper.
There is so much about this story that I loved. Knox as a hero is fraught. From the outside, he seems cold and unfeeling. Yet, as the story progresses, we find out about the hurts that exist deep within him. He’s responsible for more than himself, and his story illustrates the idea that money does not buy happiness or fix problems. There is a tenderness to Knox that the reader eventually sees, and this humanizes him in such a way that you want him and Ava to come together.
Ava is so brave. Even though Knox tells us this, given her situation, you can’t help but love her moxie, her heart. She has every right to run and hide, avoiding Camden forever. Yet, she never thinks solely about her self. She sacrifices her own peace for her brother. And you can’t help but admire her for it.
Together, these two are special. I am thankful that Madden-Mills is developing this story into a full-length novel because, as you will read, it simply isn’t enough. There are all kinds of open threads to this story, and you will finish reading it wanting more. At least, that is how I read it.
Just remember, though, that this is an important story, one that is bigger than its romance. It’s a story that reminds us of resiliency and sacrifice. It’s a tale about finding love even when it’s easier to hate. If you haven’t downloaded this anthology yet, you really should. Ilsa Madden-Mills’s “Dear Ava” alone is definitely worth this purchase.
In love and romance,