Rating: 2.75 stars
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Length: Novel

In the quiet aftermath of a drunken and bloody moment of spousal abuse, Dawson sobs in the bathroom, cleaning the injuries left on him by his husband, Cal. Dawson continues to deal with ominous silences, the demand for and expectation of obedience, and limits on his time with his sister so he can be back for dinner … and Cal’s rage when Dawson is late, leading to a violent rape on the kitchen counter.

It’s the rape that’s the trigger, the last straw, and Dawson decides to divorce his husband. His husband, his first kiss, his first time, his first love … his first everything. With his best friend at his side, Dawson’s ready to move on, only for Cal’s brother to call him. Cal has been in a car accident, a bad one, and along with the physical injuries, he’s also lost his memories. He doesn’t remember his name, his brother, or Dawson.

Dawson is now the caretaker to someone with the body of his husband and the mind of a stranger, someone who wants to do nothing more than make Dawson happy. And Dawson soon finds himself falling in love with this new version of Cal.

Before I go too far, note that this book has strong trigger warnings for an abusive relationship, including both emotional and physical abuse, and rape. I have some rather decided opinions on this book, and they’re not positive ones. Though I did like the writing and found this book easy to read, it’s the message in the book that disturbs me. To me, this read like wish fulfillment, rather than a romance story. This new Cal, this new love interest, he doesn’t feel like a person. He feels like a toy. He’s a fully functioning mannequin with no opinions of his own other than that Dawson is amazing. Cal didn’t let Dawson paint, but this new guy? He loves Dawson’s paintings. Adores them, thinks they’re masterpieces, and he thinks Dawson is amazing for being able to paint them. Dawson loves to cook, and this version of Cal loves to watch him cook. Dawson loves Disney movies and rom-coms, and so does this new Cal. This new Cal, in fact, loves everything Dawson loves. He has no opinions of his own and lives only to love and protect and worship Dawson. There’s no closure with Dawson divorcing his abusive husband, because his husband is now a Stepford Wife, doing exactly as he’s told.

This book is full of silly, fluffy moments of Cal realizing how great Dawson is and it’s as if the abuse never happened! And that’s because Cal isn’t the same man he was.

Spoiler title
Quite literally, as in the prologue and early on in the story, a ghostly entity is waiting for Cal to die. It is obsessed with Dawson and upset by the harm done to him and, upon Cal’s death, takes his place so that he can be with Dawson.
So there’s no need for Dawson to confront the man who hurt him. There’s no sense of victory in this, or a resolution to the conflict with Cal. There’s not even any need for this new Cal to prove himself, to free himself from the memory of who he once was. Dawson knows very well that this isn’t how his husband acts, but he doesn’t seem to care.

It’s a personal thing, I know, but I dislike having an automaton as a love interest. This new Cal has two opinions in his life: I love Dawson and I don’t like coffee (which, coincidentally, Dawson also doesn’t like). I get wanting a perfect lover, but the lack of personality, of self-identity? Cal has neither memories or personality; he does what Dawson tells him, and has only the experiences Dawson gives him. For me, this was a darker story than perhaps the author meant it to be. That Cal, the abusive husband, ends up being utterly helpless and Dawson is able to take advantage and control of that, to groom Cal into the perfect spouse. But it’s framed to look like a sweet romance. And when you think about it, it isn’t quite.

All in all, I’m left uncomfortable by this story, with how everything turned out. I did not enjoy the story itself, but I very much enjoyed the writing. Dawson was an interesting and well-drawn character, though I think I read his actions differently than the author intended. With this being the first book in the Who We Are series, with a second one involving Cal’s brother on the way, I do find myself curious about what will happen in book two. It may simply be that this book isn’t for me; that doesn’t mean it won’t be the book for someone else.