Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
When Saffron A. Kent began teasing her next book, Dreams of 18, I grew so excited as each month passed. Each teaser acted like catnip. I became more and more impatient, culminating in an explosion of feelings when she released the first two chapters of this book. See, Violet, the heroine of this book, seeks invisibility. She finds peace in her time alone, and society is a scary place for her. There was something about that knowledge that drew me to her as a character. It’s one of my favorite literary messages: the idea of being “seen.” It’s clear from the beginning of the book, from those two chapters that Kent gifted us, that the people in Violet’s life really don’t “see” her. And there is something powerful in that image, so powerful that my heart pounded wildly as I read those chapters.
When I finally received an ARC (for an honest review, of course), I devoured Dreams of 18. Honestly, I didn’t begin it the day I received it because I knew I wouldn’t be able to put it down. Its beginning had already called to my heart, and it was clear to me that I would fall down the rabbit hole of this story quickly. And I did. \
For those of you familiar with Kent’s books, Dreams of 18 exists in the same world as her book, Medicine Man. Violet is friends with the main heroine of that book. Like that book, the relationship of this story is forbidden, an older man and a younger woman. I imagine some might wonder if this is a “daddy” book. It has those elements, but this book isn’t that sub-genre. This book is about forbidden love like you might read in a stepbrother/stepsister or brother’s best friend’s sister kind of way. If you don’t believe that you can accept that a much older man could fall in love with a younger woman, then you should read this book. Kent makes it believable, incredibly, joyously believable.
As Kent posted teasers, she almost always offered Violet’s point of view. I kept asking her for Mr. Edwards’s point of view, yet she left him quiet. After reading Dreams of 18, I am so glad she did. I love that we didn’t know his perspective going into this book because the unveiling of his thoughts and feelings is one of the strengths of this book. His struggle to accept his connection with Violet is an important part of this story because it’s suggesting that people must decide for themselves what is best for them. Since Graham Edwards believes it is wrong to be attracted to a young woman, he punishes himself in ways that destroy him. When we meet him fully, we see the damage that this wreaks on him. Even more, Kent illustrates that maturity isn’t a number; instead, it’s a person’s ability to handle life. In all fairness, Violet and Graham are emotionally the same age. It’s this lesson in the story that pushes your brain to reconsider ideas about age and love. It’s a challenge, one we should take seriously as we so often judge others based on perception instead of true knowledge.
This leads to the other heft of this story: judgment. It is the judgment of society that forces Graham into hermithood and builds Violet’s social anxiety. This is also the genius of Kent’s story. Just as she did in Medicine Man, Kent points to the trials of mental illness. In Medicine Man, the focus was on depression. In Dreams of 18, she helps her readers understand the devastation of anxiety. For both Graham and Violet, anxiety has left them helpless, living without control. When they fully accept their attraction for the other, and start living their lives helping and strengthening each other, they bloom (like the roses in Graham’s garden – Kent’s use of the image of the rose in this story isn’t happenstance). They find the power to endure. They will never be cured; Kent is so careful in writing characters like Violet to show us that people live with the pain of mental illness every day. Instead, she shows how therapy and being supported through love help us endure it, to work through our struggles with it a bit more easily. The way that Violet and Graham love each other in this story is glorious. It makes you cry and laugh and feel all the emotions because it is real.
I will say that Dreams of 18, in my opinion, is Kent’s steamiest book. What Graham and Violet do in the bedroom will titillate you. It’s fiery and powerful, and it showcases their intensity. In fact, I think that’s the best word for these two: intense. When Kent brings them together on the page whether they are $exual or simply existing together, their chemistry is palpable. You want more moments of them together. The tension of their relationship sits in your stomach and heart and makes the reader connected to their story. That’s Kent’s superpower.
It took me a couple of days to find the words for this review. Quite frankly, they don’t do this book any justice. From its beginning to the end, you will feel this story palpably. Graham and Violet are people who are a little broken, a lot unseen, and one of them doesn’t have dreams. Until he chooses to dream Violet’s dream. Then, all that is beautiful about life, the colors of it, find purchase in your heart. Dreams of 18 is a beautiful tale of two people who find completeness in each other even when society tries to tell them that it is wrong. But what is wrong about a big encompassing love? As Saffron A. Kent shows us in her book, nothing at all. Love allows us to be seen and to really see others.
In love and romance,