Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
When you enter Sarah Mayberry’s Sweetheart, you believe you’re entering a story about a young woman attracted to her sister’s ex-boyfriend. You know that the story will exist in Sarina Bowen’s True North World, specifically in the Busy Bean. What you find quickly is a charmingly brutal story about mental illness and its impact on the people who love and surround a person with mental illness. And you recognize Mayberry’s capacity to both enlighten you while making you fall in love with her characters. This was my first Sarah Mayberry book, and based on Sweetheart, it won’t be my last.
Sweetheart tells the story of Haley, a young woman who has recently been hired at the Busy Bean. An experienced barista and waitress, Haley is excited for this new job. However, Haley’s passion lies in creating “bespoke” shoes, belts, bags, etc. Haley instantly finds herself a second family at the Busy Bean with Roderick, Zara, and Audrey. After a couple of weeks of working there, Haley realizes that the Busy Bean has lost its coffee patronage. After some investigating, she determines that the Colebury Diner has copped their clientele because they have begun using a new coffee roaster. When Haley finds out the name of the business, she visits it to negotiate with them to sell to the Busy Bean to be met with her sister Jessica’s ex-boyfriend. Haley adored Daniel Beck from afar, never believing that he could ever have eyes for her given that her sister is gorgeous and charismatic. What she finds on meeting him again is someone who wants to avoid her.
Meeting Haley brings Beck back to the difficult time with her sister. At first, he lies to her explaining that they have no room on their clientele list for the Busy Bean. However, after his brother and business partner finds out about his lie, he agrees to deliver to the Busy Bean. Very quickly, Beck and Haley find themselves drawn to each other beyond explanation. However, Jessica’s shadow threatens their potential future.
Both Beck and Haley are romantic characters that are easy to love. From the beginning of the story, my heart bled a little bit for Haley as she has lived in the shadow of her sister’s life. I find myself drawn to characters such as Haley, empathizing with their feelings of insecurity born of comparisons to an older sibling. As Beck rejects her over and over again as his own personal protection, your heart hurts for Haley. She’s compassionate, hardworking, tenacious, brilliantly creative, and kind. Everyone who knows her loves her, and yet, you can see her pain in Beck’s rejection. At first, you don’t want to like Beck because his spurning of Haley feels painful. However, as we find out more about his relationship with Jessica, his actions make sense. Eventually, the true Beck is shown as he recognizes that he and Haley are perfect for each other. Once they recognize the perfection of their coupling, Beck becomes protective of her and he encourages her towards her dream, cementing himself as the epitome of a swoony hero.
The story becomes most important as we understand Haley’s sister’s mental illness. Mayfield aptly and deftly crafts a story that shows the co-dependency of a relationship with someone with a mental illness, the difficulty of this relationship as family members and friends struggle with walking the line of intervention and allowing the person with mental illness to maintain their authority/autonomy. For much of the story, Mayfield brilliantly illustrates the impossibility of these relationships. Thankfully, she allows Beck to speak truth to Haley and her parents, and Mayfield offers a beautiful epilogue that shows the results of communication and breaking the cycle of co-dependency.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect from Sarah Mayfield’s Sweetheart. I knew that I would read anything in Sarina Bowen’s True North World because the characters and their stories are beloved. Sweetheart, in my opinion, has cemented itself as a perfect addition to this universe. It’s an important reminder that romance can be more: more than the world in which it exists, more than the physicality of two romantic characters, and more than just a simple romance. It can be a reminder that fiction is simply a keen reflection of our own world, and it can challenge us to make better choices to live more abundant lives. I loved Sweetheart, and I think you will too.
In love and romance,