Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
I think in the shadow of COVID and political/racial unrest there is an opportunity to write about the consequences of trauma. As writers of romance, it seems important for them to interrogate it as they requisition love to entertain and also soothe the shattered nerves of their readers. Trauma stays with us; it can stymie personal growth or it can inspire us to do more, to be more. When you encounter P. Dangelico’s How to Save A Life, this truth becomes apparent through the journey of her hero and heroine, and it seems timely that their challenges are, quite frankly, our challenges. With the specter of COVID illnesses and deaths looming over us, what do we do? Do we embrace relationships and allow them to heal us as we mourn life as we once knew it? Or do we close ourselves off to the richness that life holds before us? P. Dangelico lays out her answer to this in a beautiful story that suggests how love can help us transcend the hurts of our past while transforming our future and ourselves.
Now, I must say that of the P. Dangelico books I’ve read thus far (I have more to read…and I plan to in the future), this book feels the messiest in its presentation. There were moments in the story that I felt there could have been a deeper examination of her hero’s background. Dangelico gives us nibbles of Jordan’s past, but, for this story to pack a greater wallop emotionally, I would have liked more of “him” in this story.
Instead, Riley becomes the primary voice of How to Save A Life with a few chapters of Jordan’s voice integrated. What this does is create an imbalance. The emotional investment lies with her heroine. And to be fair to Dangelico, this is enough to land an affecting punch. There are a multiplicity of traumas in Riley’s past along with a complicated friend relationship that causes you to feel her emotions poignantly. Riley takes up much of this story, but Jordan’s story feels just as essential. It’s there where I would have loved for Dangelico to give us more, to make us better understand the choices of his life so that his trauma of loss would be more profound. Without his emotional insight, his portion of the story feels flat, and I wanted to cry buckets over this book. But I didn’t. I felt a minutia of pain or loss from these two, but without Jordan’s emotional gravitas, the story didn’t realize its full potential in my opinion (take that for what it’s worth).
What I believe is most profound, though, is Dangelico’s insistence in interrogating the influence of trauma in people’s lives and their reactions. She adeptly sets up the dichotomy between these reactions and shows where more work should be done in her characters. That this story falls right now feels essential and necessary. Maybe Dangelico is working out her own response to the trauma of loss in our world, or maybe she’s challenging us to let go of our perceptions of how we should respond. What How to Save A Life does is offer a place where people should think, should challenge themselves as they look at the aftermath of a pandemic in our world or political and racial unrest. Whatever the trauma, P. Dangelico makes it very clear in her newest book that, ultimately, love is what will carry us, if we simply open our arms and allow it.
In love and romance,