Shani Levine is a college freshman, out on campus, but hiding her sexuality from her mom–who would totally accept her, but Shani’s too embarrassed. She recently split with her first-ever girlfriend, Sadie, and she’s got brutal feelings about the experience. The more she thinks about it, the more Shani recognizes that their time together was toxic. Instead of dealing with her humiliation, however, Shani takes a break-time internship in DC, far from her NYC home. Working at the Smithsonian gives Shani time to get her head on correctly, with hours of fossil cleaning and mounting in her future. Unfortunately, Shani’s minds seems to fill quickly with the red-haired girl her mom nearly ran over in the blizzard that hit the day they arrived in town.
Despite Shani’s determination to have a girl-free, stress-free time, she keeps bumping into May over and over, as they live in the same neighborhood. May clearly has family troubles, and she and Shani strike up an unlikely friendship that seems like it could become more, if only May liked girls.
The effort Shani puts in to deluding herself is incredible. She fools no one–none of her close contacts anyhow–but they humor her and give her the space she needs to have the hard conversations she endeavors to avoid. Still, May doesn’t know these things about Shani and they plow into friendship with few reservations, once they connect on an intellectual level. I liked how impassioned both Shani and May are, and I liked that Shani tried to check herself for getting well beyond her desired limits for friendship (and more), because she’s pretty sure that Sadie may have broken something in her. Not exactly her heart, but maybe her gumption, if that’s possible. Shani’s fears cause her to make poor decisions, ones that hurt May and Shani alike, but for different reasons. Sadie was terrible to Shani and she doesn’t want to lose herself in another relationship, but that’s what she seems to continue doing, nonetheless.
There are a lot of things pulling Shani and May apart–and it will only be honesty that binds them together. I appreciated how vulnerable May was, and how strong a character she seemed. Shani’s journey has her determining her own worth and helping to get back on track in her relationships. I liked the personal growth Shani had make, and admired her control in situations that seem to only be more fraught with anxiety, for which Shani very much struggles. The setting is winter break, so Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years are all part of the story, in ways that both strengthen and weaken the book.
This is a new adult, enemies-to-lovers read, but it didn’t seem as formulaic as all that. For me, this wasn’t exactly a romance. Nor did it seem to fit as a holiday romance. MAYBE it’s a holiday fling, but readers should expect some wrong turns that derail things long before the story ends in a Happy for Now scenario. There’s a ton of emotion happening in the story and Shani is overwhelmed by it, but not a ton of romance. It’s clear these young women have a thing for each other, but it takes work for Shani to build the healthy relationship she’d like to experience. And she messes it up a lot in the couple of weeks she and May spend in proximity.
I liked the story and I liked the resolution. It’s not an easy ending, and I valued the work that went into getting the characters where they needed to be emotionally. Shani didn’t take shortcuts, because they all backfired. As awkward and unlovable as she seemed, Shani won me over with her vicious humor and unrelenting self-derision. This is a girl who can’t take her own worth, and so she’s constantly undervaluing herself. It was interesting to experience and the prose is tight, twisting, and thoughtful.
Highly recommend for readers who enjoy YA/New Adult stories.