Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The mark of a good writer is their ability to make a connection with their audience; they use the power of words to feel the emotion of the characters and the story. When you read a book and you cry or laugh out loud or become angered by the actions of the characters, the writer of the story has done their job, and done it well. This is the case with Dylan Allen’s newest book, Between Now and Forever. This book is the beginning of what I believe will be an epic journey of love and heartache and an eventual “happily-ever-after,” but only after the characters have endured much.
Between Now and Forever is a beginning. What’s interesting about it is the Prologue as Allen carefully planned her book to begin with the happy ending of her characters, Carter and Elisabeth. It’s clear from the start that Allen’s prologue is intentional. It’s a warning to the reader that the journey will be fraught. And reader, heed this warning.
This book is a tough one. I’m not talking about style or one’s ability to follow the story. This romance is difficult because the journey for these characters isn’t an easy one. From the outset, we know that Elisabeth is different. She doesn’t fit the mold of her community and her father’s expectations. Since she is different, she endures the abuse of her father and his machinations. He is a powerful man, and he wields his power in awful ways. The one person she can trust is her brother, James. Their relationship breathes life into her day, but it too is fraught with issues. All Elisabeth wants is acceptance. She believes she can achieve it by trying to look the same as everyone else; however, in doing so, she is denying her individualism and self-worth. At some point in this book, Elisabeth has to make a choice to accept herself or fall prey to societal expectations, and you need to read the book for her decision. What makes her story difficult is Allen’s illustration, through Elisabeth, of society’s idealism about beauty. Allen highlights the exasperating dichotomy of inner and external beauty. It’s a challenge to her readers to accept ourselves as we are, to love ourselves, and to seek after inner qualities of beauty instead of appeasing unrealistic societal standards. It’s an important message, and Allen creates the angst of this message through the uncommon beauty of Elisabeth. It’s a difficult journey to read, but a necessary one.
In contrast to Elisabeth, there is Carter. Successful, talented, and gorgeous, Carter has the world at his fingertips. Yet, he is missing his truth. In its absence, Carter self-destructs but then resurrects himself to journey after it. While his journey has its own pain, I didn’t feel its depth as acutely as Elisabeth’s. I think we will feel Carter’s angst more in the next book of this trilogy, Between Now and Heartbreak. But his story is also a necessary one. Carter’s story holds a message of family. What is family? If we are different than our family, are we still family? How do we find our self-worth if we don’t really know who we are? There is so much to unpack yet in his story.
When Carter and Elisabeth meet, there is an instant connection. Allen makes it palpable for her readers on the page. Carter sees Elisabeth and her true beauty; he accepts her differences and encourages her to be true to herself. And Elisabeth sees Carter’s pain. While she doesn’t know the core of it, she recognizes it and hopes to know it. Unfortunately, circumstances cause these two to part, and much of this book actually finds them separated, making choices that further distance themselves from each other. This is why Allen’s prologue is necessary. It is also why readers need patience in reading Carter and Elisabeth’s story. In reading the title of the next book, my intuition tells me that there is a long road of angst and heartbreak ahead for these two.
This is what I know. Dylan Allen never disappoints in her storytelling. Yes, she creates stories that cause her readers to steel their hearts. She writes beautiful, devastating romances as a way to remind us that happy endings do come even after enduring so much pain. Why? Because that is the way of life. This is the connection of her stories to our souls. Yes, her stories can be difficult to read because we oftentimes hate remembering how difficult life can be. But the written word should always be a reflection of our experiences, of our pain, of our happiness, of our joys, and of our sadness. Without these connections, then words are simply letters on a page. When you read a Dylan Allen book like Between Now and Forever, the words are the whispers of our souls reminding us that our happily-ever-after is just around the corner if we’re brave enough to endure. Be prepared for this book. It will take a bit of your heart, but the eventual reward will be worth it.
In love and romance,