Rowan Sterling is bitter, hurt, and angry with life, having spent her eighteen years neglected by a mother who treats her daughter with scorn, when not ignoring her completely in favor of a series of boyfriends.
As a result, Rowan’s had a rocky adolescence, and only barely graduated from high school. Her mother demands that, in order to prove her worth, she must spend a summer on a friend’s ranch, working for her keep, as the price of being sent to the art school of her dreams. She starts out with a chip on her shoulder, but the Walker family is so welcoming and accepting of her, just as she is, that she finds herself warming to them. But it’s Jesse, the family’s only son, chivalrous, gorgeous, and understanding, who inspires feelings in her she never thought she deserved to have, and even responds in kind. Can Rowan find her own value in time to win the heart of the man she really loves? Can she open up enough to realize that everyone has scars, and to accept the help she needs to get her past her pain and into a brighter future? Can she withstand the efforts of Jesse’s former best friend, Garth Black, to mire her back in her old bitterness, so much like his? And can she find the strength to deal with her mother’s selfishness and cruelty, even when it involves her childhood’s deepest trauma?
This is a warm, gentle, and romantic story, full of tenderness and love. Rowan may be occasionally obnoxious, but her good heart shines through her defensive shields, and her essential vulnerability combined with her fierce determination to survive makes her a very appealing character indeed. Jesse is a white knight, a truly good person for whom the reader can cheer without reservation, and his vigorous defense of Rowan near the end – well, let’s just say I haven’t been so delighted in ages to read about someone getting beaten up.
Jesse’s family and friends, even his ex-girlfriend, are all portrayed so as to win the reader’s heart. The book’s main villains, including Rowan’s mother, are all three-dimensional in their nastiness, not without motivation, even if it’s rather horrible motivation.
At times, the book falls into the standard fairy-tale format of unblemished good vs. unalloyed evil, though it makes up for this a bit at the end by giving one of the villains, at least, a chance at redemption. The story can be a bit preachy at times, but that, too, is typical of the moralistic fairy-tale genre.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader