Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️+
My first foray into Brittainy C. Cherry was her fantastic book, Eleanor & Grey. The angst of their story and its happy ending made me fall in love with Cherry’s storytelling. Within the pages of that story, we were introduced to Landon and Shay. Landon is Grey’s best friend since childhood, and Shay is Eleanor’s best friend and cousin. In this book, it’s clear that Landon and Shay have unresolved issues. There is a tension between the two of them, grounded in disappointment and game-playing. At the end of Eleanor & Grey, I wasn’t done with these characters. In fact, I wanted Landon and Shay’s story. And Brittainy C. Cherry has provided a duet for these two, the first book being Landon & Shay: Book 1.
For those of you who read Eleanor & Grey, the Landon and Shay of that book is similar but not quite the same as the Landon and Shay of this first book of the duet. Yes, these two begin this story as enemies. Both of them “hate” each other predicated on their perceptions of the other person. They don’t really know each other personally. Their understandings of each other are based on their preconceived notions and the actions of the other. And those preconceived notions don’t match the real worlds of these two characters. As one can imagine, as the story progresses, these two learn more about each other. This occurs because these two make a bet: the first to fall in love with the other is the winner with all the entitled bragging rights. What each learns about the other through the experience of the bet makes them realize they are more alike than different, and they have deeper feelings than before. At the end of this book, after falling in love, they leave each other for future endeavors. Obviously, Book 2 will show us more of the Landon and Shay of Eleanor & Grey, but I think Cherry has added more depth to these characters than she did in that book. I, for one, am anticipatory for her second book in this duet.
This book is a slow burn. As an “enemies-to-lovers” book, it’s important to realize that it takes quite a bit of story for Landon and Shay to move beyond their “hate” for each other. Cherry develops this story almost tediously as a way to help us understand the characters of Landon and Shay individually. What this does is slow the story down quite a bit. This is a romance that requires patience (never a bad thing), but the true action and depth of the story don’t really begin until about 60 – 70% into the book. Instead, Cherry takes her time in developing Landon and Shay individually so we can feel the depth of their hearts when they finally admit feelings larger than hate. For a reader like me, I found myself wanting to speed up or fast forward, but I waited it out. When the story finally crescendos, the feelings and heartbreak for these two characters tears at your soul. This is wise storytelling; it suggests that the more we invest in the character development, the bigger the emotional payoff. For a romance reader like me, that’s important. I need an emotional connection to my characters within the context of an angsty romance like this one. That is what makes a successful romance in my estimation.
While this book is seemingly about enemies becoming lovers, the real message behind this story is depression. This is the power of Cherry’s story here. Landon lives a life with a mask that hides his deep depression. Cherry shows us all his hurt within the confines of his mind. Every moment Landon hits the page, it illustrates the dire nature of living with depression. He hides it well, except that Shay sees through his mask. It’s her love for him, her tenacity to see him fully, that helps him begin to admit he’s depressed. This isn’t an easy or fast choice in this book. It takes most of the book, much back and forth between these two, for Landon to admit it. When he does, this sets the action forward. Through Landon’s characterization, we are treated to the ways that people can help others with depression, and it begins with seeing them behind their masks. I hope the Landon of Landon & Shay isn’t fully like the Landon in Eleanor & Grey. I hope when we read him in Book 2 he’ll maintain the depth he’s grown in this book. But, this being Brittainy C. Cherry, I know there are strife and tension ahead.
As far as heroines, Shay resides among the best of them. She should be broken. With an addict, liar of a father, she should act out and make poor choices. Instead, Cherry sets her in contrast to the antagonist of the story, Monica. Monica’s life is a mess because her home life is less than ideal. While Shay’s home life is also fraught with issues, she relies on the strength of her grandmother to see her through the difficulties. Like Landon, she too wears a mask at school: the good perfect girl. However, there is something deeper in Shay. And it’s this depth that calls out to Landon. She’s wise beyond her years, intuitive about people. This is what helps save Landon from himself. This is what makes her heroic. Yes, she has the qualities of a typical romantic heroine: looks, strength, and compassion. It’s her intuitive nature, however, that makes her better.
Brittainy C. Cherry’s Landon & Shay calls for patience. It asks for us to wait, to save our judgment until the very last word. If not, we run the risk of unfairly characterizing its story. At its surface, this book looks like an enemies-to-lovers story. Yet, at its depth, it is a story of loving someone through their pain and their hurt and their depression. Cherry does this carefully, plodding along while pouring into the development of her characters. I know when this duet ends my heart will be fuller, and the tension of this book (and probably the next) will have drained away. In its stead, there will be the realization that true love can overcome anything. If you love contemporary, angsty romance, then you’ll find an important story in Cherry’s Landon & Shay.
In love and romance,