Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
Monica Murphy’s Meant to Be is a continuation and a conclusion of sorts to her first book in the duet, Addicted to Him. This duet follows the star-crossed lover’s trope with her hero and heroine attending rival high schools and the hero, Eli Bennett, showing open disdain for the heroine’s brother, his football rival. If I had to rename this series, I’d call it The Humanization of Eli Bennett because, in the book preceding this duet, Eli Bennet is difficult to like, let alone love. Yet, for me, the brilliance of this duet is Murphy’s ability to turn our minds on Eli, and she does this by, quite frankly, humanizing him, reminding her readers that people who bully hide a host of their own insecurities. In Meant to Be, just as she did with Addicted to Him, she makes this journey towards Eli acknowledging his hurts clear. In that truth, you come to appreciate Eli as a hero, but more importantly, as Ava Callahan’s boyfriend who absolutely adores her.
I saw a TikTok after Addicted to Him was released where the TikTok reviewer basically espoused her love for Ava as the best part of the book. That Ava is the only “good” person in the book. To be honest, that reviewer isn’t wrong. Even Murphy’s former hero and heroine darlings, Fable and Drew Callahan don’t make the cut as “good” in their indifference to their mean-spirited son, Jake, and their blinders to Ava’s strengths. Ava is the best part of this duet because 1) she knows herself, 2) she is wildly protective of the people she loves, namely Eli (even when Eli is a huge d-bag), and 3) she has a strong sense of justice. There is something very heroic about Ava Callahan, and even her sister and brother’s characterizations, pale in comparison to her empathic nature. Quite honestly, Ava as a character pulled me through Murphy’s two books in the duet.
And while I note Eli Bennett’s humanization, I don’t really like him until the end of Meant to Be. He is radically impulsive and trigger-happy in his disdain. I recognize that he is a teen boy, but like Jake Callahan, he is mean-spirited to a fault. Even after professing his love and adoration for Ava, for example, he gets angry at her at a party and allows her to walk away from him in order for him to drink and smoke out with his friend INSTEAD of apologizing. Even when he attempts to apologize, Ava has to pull it from him. Over and over, the Eli merry-go-round goes, and it becomes frustrating to find him either pining for her after pushing Ava away, physically attached to her, or struggling with his family. And yes, I understand his psychology. However, it doesn’t make Meant to Be an easy read.
This leads me to the biggest issue I have with Murphy’s newest book. It feels very “one-note” throughout. There are epiphanies for her characters but they are slight, and it doesn’t follow a traditional storyline. As such, there aren’t major moments or a distinct story climax. It’s like sitting in a gossip circle with a different person telling the same story but through their filter. I kept waiting for a break-out moment, for a real resolution, and those moments are muted throughout the story. I honestly finished the book and relished in the fact that I am no longer in high school. I’m not sure I could ever live through the drama again. When I read a book, I want some escape, and Meant to Be entrapped me in its pages and not always in a good way.
If you’re a fan of new adult romance, and you love the story of Romeo and Juliet, then you will probably enjoy Monica Murphy’s Callahans, namely the second book of the duet about Ava and Ell, Meant to Be. For this reader, it was a bit of a struggle.
In love and romance,