My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Rayanne and Henry were a pleasant, challenging surprise for me both in the romantic roles they played and in the ways they seemed caught up in family and cultural ties. Definitely the book to pick up if you’re looking for a refresher of a Romance when feeling a bit jaded by all the same old, same old.
This isn’t your usual, white-bread, contemporary, here. There are both stylistic and content things in the book that are a bit challenging. Firstly, when talking about Romance, the elephant in the room is the steam level, right? I was disappointed in their very first kiss-encounter, it had none of the delicious, slo-mo build up I love so much. But then the somewhat more slow-paced and graphic foreplay (there’s no actual on-screen panky going on) scenes I totally got the Romance fix I was looking for along with some laughs as Henry has trouble taking his shoes off and Rayanne has to ring out her Condom Treasure Box. Excellent dash of realistic self-awareness in both Henry and Rayanne as they face getting physical with each other that i appreciated.
And Henry is not an alpha male. He’s Beta to the max. He’s kind of homeless and teetering on top of loser territory, but somehow the book still makes him real and attractive and caring. It’s interesting that Rayanne almost always has the upper hand in everything.
And then there’s the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center itself, and the diverse NDN staff that works there. Sanderson herself is Karuk, and works in Indian affairs, and you can totally see the measured and sensitive way she approaches the self-deprecating jokes, the racist behaviors Henry has to deal with, and the differences in tribal customs that has Rayanne appreciating an elder singing at a drum circle even while acknowledging to herself that it isn’t part of her family tradition.
Where the book shines is depicting the familial friction between Rayanne and a beloved Grandfather who’s navigating the grey area of slowly becoming less able to care for himself, and Henry’s constant pressure from his mother and Uncle Arnie (who is a POV character himself in some short segments that I guess are setting him up to be a main character in a later book) to be more conventionally successful.
Didn’t like the cliffhanger at the end of the book about the fate of the Crooked Rock Center itself, but that’s a personal taste issue 🙂