Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.
Wow, it’s hard to know exactly where to start. When I heard Sydney Logan’s first novel was being published, I was extremely excited to get my hands on a copy before I even knew what the story was about. I went into it knowing only what the blurb tells us about it, so I honestly expected a typical contemporary sappy romance with a smidgen of angst from past turmoil tossed in.
That was not what I got. At all.
What I got was a deep story about love and acceptance, a story about hope and growing up. It’s a fantastic portrayal of small-town conservative American, where bigotry still runs rampant and the hate can be extreme. A lot of people are unaware that these places still exist, but they do, and I commend Sydney Logan for diving right into the issue.
Sarah Bray, haunted by things she’d witnessed at the previous school she taught at, moves back to her small hometown to get away from it all. She meets Lucas Miller, another new teacher in town, who is there to escape his own scandal of sorts. They hit it off immediately, and we watch as their love blossoms despite their past trauma. Their story is a case of love conquering all, that no matter what we have gone through and how we’ve been hurt, we still have the ability to open up and love (and be loved, in this case). Sarah and Lucas were both well-formed characters, but throughout the beginning of the story something felt a little ‘off’ to me. I couldn’t put my finger on it until much later when I realized they seemed a little too ‘perfect’. They weren’t perfect in the sense that they didn’t make any mistakes as individuals, because they did, but more in the sense that they fit together so flawlessly from their very first meeting at the hardware store. There’s no real conflict in the relationship, no big chase, no issues, no couple angst… but these are things we usually expect in a ‘romance’, so I, in turn, kept waiting for it to happen.
And that’s what makes this book different. It’s not a typical romance. It’s much more.
For me, the love story between Sarah and Lucas (as beautiful and heartwarming as it was) took a back seat to the more serious themes… and serious they are. Bullying, along with school shootings, homophobia, and suicide, are touchy subjects for a lot of people, and a lot of writers use them solely as plot points for shock value without even thinking of the consequences, but I think the way Sydney Logan handled it was not only respectful but also quite smart. And real. There’s no sugar-coating of the issues. Things aren’t wrapped up in a pretty bow. It’s gritty and honest, and it hurts, but it speaks the truth. You can’t fix everyone. You can’t completely erase hate. And that, in my opinion, makes this story even more beautiful.
Matt was, without a doubt, my favorite character in this book. If I could, I would bribe Sydney Logan with chocolate and alcohol to get her to write a story focused solely on him. He’s such a tortured soul, the high school quarterback and beloved son harboring deep secrets. I sympathized with him. I worried for him. I fell in love with him. My heart broke for him. I, admittedly, cried for him… and I rarely cry while reading a story. But Matt got to me. He’s one I’ll never forget.
Another character I loved was Sarah’s grandma. Even though she died before the story even started, I felt her influence throughout the entire book. She reminded me of my own grandma, with the dozens of cookbooks and nuggets of wisdom. My favorite part had to be toward the end when we get this line: “It’s nobody’s business who you vote for, and it’s nobody’s business how you pray.” Amen, Grandma. Amen. She was a wise, accepting soul whose presence still lingered in such a small, closed-minded town.
I give the book four stars (more like a strong 4.5). The religious undertones got to me a few times (possibly because I’m not a Christian so religious books often infuriate me… but maybe that’s the point here), and there’s the issue of the romance taking a back seat (the secondary characters totally stole the show a lot), which is why I docked half a star. But all-in-all, it was an easy read and held my attention through the entire book (which seems to be rare these days). Lessons Learned is a book that isn’t easily forgotten... I urge you to give it a read. You won’t regret it.
Also, did I mention it starts with a bang? Talk about the best prologue ever. Blew me away. (BTW, you can read the prologue on the author's website)