Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
It’s very easy to take on a reductive view of romance. I just had a conversation this morning wherein my brother was demeaning it, dropping it to the level of “smut.” I don’t try to defend it vehemently because the reality is that people want to believe romance only serves one purpose: propagate $ex. While there are some authors who revel in that cause, I contend that more and more authors see an opportunity to share important messages through the vehicle of romance. They understand there is an audience for this genre, and they use it to enlighten their readers of various social issues.
This is very true of Siobhan Davis’s newest book, Releasing Keanu. This book is the newest offering from her Kennedy Boys series of standalones. It would have been easy to play it safe with Keanu and Selena, the hero and heroine of this book. Yet, she doesn’t. Instead, Davis finds space in her romance series to tackle the heady topic of human trafficking, and she does it in such a way that it is profound and enlightening. I have not read her Kennedy Boys series. I’ve read other books from her booklist, so this was my first entree into this world. If you are worried that you have to read the first books of this series to understand Releasing Keanu, rest in the knowledge that it isn’t necessary. While I would love more background of the other relationships mentioned in this book, it did not confuse me for the main relationship between Keanu and Selena.
Releasing Keanu brings us up to the present in the Kennedy Boys world. It has been a few years since Keanu and Selena broke up. However, every day is a torture for each of them. Selena has spent the past few years working on her career and her mental health, while Keanu has continued to grow his profile in the modeling world. Both of them have entered college, and their future seems bright. Yet, every day, Keanu and Selena miss each other. Selena doesn’t believe she’s quite ready to reconnect with Keanu, but she feels closer to it than before. She presumes that she has more work to do, and she fears that he has moved on from her. Keanu knows that he has a Selena-sized hole in his heart that no amount of partying or sleeping with women will fill. He mourns a little bit for her every day, and, given the way that Selena broke up with him, he isn’t sure that she ever loved him, making it difficult for him to reach out to her. Selena knows that she will eventually cross Keanu’s path, but for the moment, she’s not provoking that meeting. Until her life changes in one day.
Underlying Keanu and Selena’s story is the story of human trafficking. As a tween, Selena was abducted and became a $ex slave to powerful men. Thankfully, she is able to escape, but the years of abuse follow her. In the midst of Releasing Keanu, Selena is faced with her past, and she runs to the protection of Keanu. It is there that she begins to accept her soul-level connection to Keanu. In the arms of Selena, Keanu knows he will do anything to protect her from her past.
Yes, Releasing Keanu is a romance, but more importantly, this book is a magnifying glass to the travesty of human trafficking. As Davis pulls us into Keanu and Selena’s love story, she highlights the horror of the sale and abuse of people for purposes of $exual gratification. She aptly illustrates the damaging effects of this crime on the lives of the survivors. This book is really a love story for those people who have lived to talk about this devastating practice. It feels like every moment of Selena’s story is intentional. And more than any of her other books, she crafts Keanu is such a way that he does nothing to add to Selena’s “mental illness.”
Having read Davis’s other stories, it’s interesting to find a male character like Keanu who is so compassionate, loving, and caring. I’ve read many of her other heroes who are bullies to their heroines. In this book, there is very little strife (if any) between Keanu and Selena. Keanu’s sole purpose in this story is loving Selena through her trauma and for her healing. What I loved about Davis’s depiction of him is the insistence on showing Selena’s healing in herself by only giving Keanu a part to play in loving her through her journey toward healing; Keanu is NOT the reason for it. Instead, he’s her helpmate, which makes it easy to fall into their story. Keanu loves Selena so that she can be her best self, but her power comes from within herself. If you had to note the strength of this book, it’s that. Selena saves herself.
Keanu and Selena’s romance in Releasing Keanu is a beautiful treatise on overcoming trauma and re-discovering love again. Their love is peaceful, endearing, and something so very special. You fall into their story so easily, even when Selena’s past is frightening. But it’s her past and what it represents that makes this book special. As a populace, we NEED these stories because they remind us to open our eyes to the reality of others. We need to be aware, and we need to speak up to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And romance is the genre that can highlight these social ills well. Even if you haven’t read any of the other Kennedy Boys series, you MUST read Releasing Keanu.
In love and romance,