Reviewed by Ian Lipke
J. L. Perry’s books belong firmly in the Romance genre but stand apart from a very large field in their ability to examine in depth a particular facet of the human experience. I have read her earlier novel Hooker and was surprised how well that seemingly narrow concept could grow into a reasonably interesting book. It succeeded in the same way as Bastard does, by focusing attention on a distinctive group of people who are defined by what they do, and examining what makes them do the things they do.
J. L. Perry knows how to capture the reader’s attention while focusing on the reason for writing the book. How powerful is this:
My name is Carter Reynolds. I was born a bastard and I’ll die a bastard. I learnt it at a young age, and nothing and nobody can change that. I’m on a one-way path of destruction, and God help anyone who gets in my way. I hate my life. Actually, I hate pretty much everything.
That’s until I meet the kid next door. Indi-freakin’-ana. My dislike for her is instant.
When Carter Reynolds moves in next door, my life takes a turn for the worse. He’s gorgeous, sinfully hot, but that’s where my compliments end. He seems hell-bent on making my life miserable. He acts tough, but when I look into his eyes I don’t see it. I see hurt and pain. To me, he seems lost.
Note the strength of the two characters; the hate juxtaposed with the recognition of a human being hurting. The hard-boiled Carter who, having been let down so often, hates and distrusts the world and everybody in it…until he meets Indiana who meets each challenge, each insult, with understanding. Theirs is a steamy relationship built, unfortunately, on incidents and practices that just have to be accepted as likely.
That Carter’s bedroom window faces hers, that nobody seems to notice that each inhabits the other’s bedrooms. Indiana’s father has raised a sixteen year old daughter and being a policeman, should be alert to his daughter’s proclivities. He does not realise that Carter ‘touches his daughter up’ in the girl’s bedroom. Surely some of the noise coming from her room would be heard and investigated in a normal family situation. Yet Ross, Indiana’s father, approves Carter’s physical attacks on his daughter. What is more difficult to understand is that Indiana accepts them without a murmur. Sexual harassment is rife but nobody complains.
There are readers who will not be able to see the love story developing unannounced to either the reader or the character. Indiana is deeply attracted to the young man, Carter, who fails to realise until well into the book how much he is in love with her.
Book 1 ends with a powerful account of a young girl losing her virginity. It is a beautiful account told with the sureness of an author who is completely sensitive to the feelings of the characters and has the deftness of touch that tells their story in the most emotive, but real, way.
But then the young man takes off immediately for places new. No, that would not happen. But this is the same teenager who received payment for sex with his employer. To enjoy the romance the reader must put aside her evaluative practices and go with the sweep of the tide that is determining the future of this couple. The sex and the sloppy conversation later in the book, even a brain tumour thrown in to milk emotion, make the latter part of the book difficult to read. Even the parents being caught out having sex on the kitchen table was a bit over the hill.
In summary, we have the makings of a fine story, we have an author with very powerful writing skills. But we also have an author who does not keep a strong rein on her plot towards the end of the book, a practice that clashes with the firm prose of Book 1. Once the climax is reached in Book 1, the story weakens and soon loses its way. But that’s romance writing, I guess.
I enjoyed the book.
by J. L. Perry
ISBN: 978 0 7336 3582 3
RRP $17.99; Pages: 442