Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2
“I am hers and she is mine and we are us.”
I have a soft spot for epic love stories. Finding yourself attached to the hero and heroine from the days of their youth, dying a little bit when their young love is shattered, reading them take different paths away from each other, and finding each other again when their hearts are bigger and matured and can handle the depth of their love takes me on a journey that both steals a piece of my heart and my soul. For authors to craft a story of this nature in such a way that both titillates and engages their readers is impressive. To this end, Tara Leigh is impressive in the wake of her newest book, We are Us.
Everything I’ve noted above is true of We are Us. The burgeoning love of Gavin and Poppy is a simple one, grounded in mutual affection. As these two fall deeply for each other, Leigh forbodes their connection in her beautiful words: “like a spider’s web, the connection Gavin and I forged is intricate and beautiful. And so very, very fragile.” Their beginning is haunted: Gavin and Poppy sit in a shadow of their families, both abusive and both ineffective in meeting their basic needs. As such, Leigh shows us clearly that their initial coupling is fraught, and we, the readers, will endure pain before Gavin and Poppy can find their happy ending.
It’s in this pain where growth exists. One of my favorite parts of Leigh’s book, believe it or not, isn’t the romance (I mean, it actually is a beautifully painful one that everyone should read for its messages about living small and contented with “just enough”). Instead, my favorite part of Leigh’s book lies in her acknowledgments. It is there where Leigh flays herself open, allowing us insight into a bit of the backstory for We are Us. The truth of Poppy’s story burrows deeper into your heart when you realize Poppy represents so many women who find themselves in situations beyond their understanding. There is a bravery in her that becomes hidden by an ambition to live a bigger life than her mother. While it could seem short-sighted, it’s simply a defense mechanism, learned through years of emotional and mental abuse. You can’t help but fall in love with her, wanting to protect Poppy from the arrows of pain coming her way. However, through Poppy’s characterization, that pain brings clarity to Poppy’s life. It helps her mature so that she and Gavin can find their happy ending. Herein lies Leigh’s genius. Her ability to see the totality of Poppy’s story for her readers and craft her in such a way that you find yourself angered by her, protective of her, and empathic over her situation. These feelings are the art of Leigh’s We are Us.
Since most of this story is written from Poppy’s point of view, we don’t get much of Gavin’s inner monologue which leaves us at a disadvantage for understanding him as the hero of this romance. We can note his actions, and we understand his sense of justice and his integrity. But we don’t get a strong sense of him as a romantic hero. With that, Leigh suggests that this book is Poppy’s story, that Tucker and Gavin, to a certain degree act as the men who punctuate her life. That isn’t to say that the reader lives for Gavin and Poppy finding their way back to each other. However, if you intend to get a sense of the men in this story, that isn’t the point for We are Us. Instead, this story seems to be a romance between Poppy and herself. She finds her power, her voice, and her peace throughout the course of this romance. She falls in love with her truth, after over a decade of fighting it. This is Leigh’s second bit of genius: writing a story that encapsulates the journey of a woman and creating a need for this woman to learn to love herself just as she is. Gavin and Poppy’s ending is idyllic, even with a bit of drama folded in. That is the big pay-off for enduring Poppy’s emotional, fraught journey towards herself.
This is my first Tara Leigh book. I feel blessed to have read it because it bleeds the truth of so many of us: always wanting more instead of loving ourselves in the present. It’s, unfortunately, a hard lesson to learn for any of us. Tara Leigh’s We are Us is beautifully written and beautifully told. From its cover to its acknowledgments, it’s a book with a big heart and a big soul.
In love and romance