Sean Campbell is only twenty-seven, but his life has been falling apart for months. First came the devastation of him and his wife losing their first child at birth. Then came all the emotional trauma that follows such consuming loss. It broke his marriage and it very nearly broke Sean. Therapy helped, somewhat. But everything and everyone reminded Sean of the life he thought he was going to have. Sean decided a clean break in a new town was the best way to get his life back in order. He landed in Harmony Creek, Tennessee and immediately carved out a spot for himself at a local cafe.
At thirty-seven, Jonah Wright has given up a lot to continue the legacy of the cafe his now-deceased father built from the ground up. Being the cook and owner doesn’t leave a lot of time for much of anything else—a fact his best friend Candance likes to point out. When an attractive new customer arrives, it sends the whole town into a fit of excitement. And when that man saves one of Jonah’s employees from a sanctimonious customer, Jonah goes out of his way to show his gratitude. It turns out the mysterious man is named Sean and, despite secreting away what is sure to be some very heavy personal baggage, Jonah strikes up a friendship. Of course, it doesn’t take long for the heat of attraction to rear its ugly head…if only Sean would give Jonah some sign he was in any way interested. Little does Jonah know that Sean’s not un-attracted to men, rather, Sean is struggling to believe he is worthy of a relationship now and with someone as amazing as Jonah.
Chasing Hope is a contemporary, standalone novel that takes place in what seems to be a rural-esque area. Jonah is a local gay shop owner with a robust family network. Sean comes from a wealthy family, but his recent tragedies have affected him so deeply, he’s both unsure he’s worthy of happiness with anyone and whether this is truly a time to explore an aspect of his sexuality he’d only previously encountered while at a rowdy college party. Additionally, there is a decade of an age gap between our main love interests and a smidgen of “richer” and “poorer.”
I think the mix of having two characters devastated by death at opposite ends of a person’s life, plus the romance, made for an interesting mix. Both Sean and Jonah keep their feelings about losing a child and parent respectively incredibly close to their chests. For me, this was sort of a double-edged sword. Being privy to both characters’ losses, I could instantly tell when one or the other was hiding their hurt feelings from the other. This builds a lot of tension into their relationship. The stakes in that relationship therefore grow bigger the deeper their connection grows. On the other side, I felt it ran uncomfortably close to the idea that one character’s pain was “worth” more than another’s. Specifically, when Sean accuses Jonah of being ignorant of the depth of Sean’s pain when Jonah finally learns that Sean’s daughter was stillborn. I don’t think the story storms right into stating that one is objectively worse than the other, but again, it felt pretty clear that’s at least partly how Sean felt. It was most bothersome for me because the narration isn’t first-person, so it’s harder to justify such feelings as coming straight from the character.
The romance was also very present on page. Personally, I wasn’t completely sold on the presentation. The early stages of Sean’s and Jonah’s attraction were a little cringey for me. The narration surrounding their interactions is frequently laced with sentiments that ranged from “Sean worked very hard to ignore the tingles buzzing under his skin and down his back” to “Sean […felt] a curious swell bubbling inside of his belly at the idea of how Jonah’s lips would feel against his own.” On the plus side, both Sean and Jonah seem to experience intense physical reactions to each other from the very beginning. If nothing else, this super clearly establishes them as love interests and helps build the tension of “when are they gonna admit they like each other.” Personally, however, I thought the frequency of these expositions shifted the focus a little too hard a little too fast on the desire for sexual intimacy.
While it’s clear both Jonah and Sean have suffered deep emotional losses, the story and the action therein does center more sharply on Sean’s loss. Given the author’s background in the back matter of the book and the simple temporal fact that Sean’s loss is more recent, I can understand this focus. That said, I was a little frustrated that I had to accept Jonah’s loss—one that made him give up his dreams and leave NY for TN—at face value, without really learning how or why Jonah’s father meant that much to him.
Overall, I think this story focuses very intimately on the aftermath of losing a child. Sean portrays deep devastation and loss and this book encompasses his journey to finding himself again, to learning how to love, and how to love himself again. Jonah is one of the best emotional anchors, offering acceptance and not demanding answers. Despite the age difference, I think both characters feel similarly situated in emotional maturity and experience. For readers who like following characters who fall in love with each other, but also learn to stand on their own, I think you’ll enjoy this story.