Emma Blair had the great good fortune to meet her soulmate at age 17. Emma and Jesse fall madly in love, eventually get married, and escape their small New England town for a life full of adventure and travel. They seem destined for a perfect life. But the day before their first anniversary, on a work assignment, Jesse in lost in a deadly helicopter crash in the Pacific Ocean and presumed dead.
Emma’s world is shattered, and she believes she’ll never recover from her grief. Yet with time and with the support of her family, years pass, she recenters herself and finds a new purpose, and finally, meets an old friend with whom there’s an instant connection. With much soul-searching, Emma brings herself to a point in her life where she’s ready to love again. Emma and Sam are in love, and establish a home and a life together. They’re happy.
And then, as the very first line of the book tells us:
I am finishing up dinner with my family and my fiancé when my husband calls.
Jesse is alive, miraculously found again years after his supposedly fatal crash. Not just alive, but coming home. Seven weeks later, Jesse arrives back in Massachusetts after getting his strength back, desperate to reunite with Emma and pick up where they left off. And Emma is a complete mess. She loves Sam, but she loved Jesse with all her heart and soul for so long. If Jesse hadn’t disappeared, they’d certainly still be together. So what is Emma to do?
Jesse was her one true love — but so is Sam. She can’t imagine hurting either man, but she knows she has to choose. Every time she seems to realize which is the person she can’t do without, her heart breaks at the thought of giving up the other.
One True Loves is an emotional rocketship ride, from a powerful take-off through chapters and paragraphs that go zooming by, all the way to the dynamic ending. I read this book in the space of a single day, because I couldn’t stop reading until I knew how it all would work out. The writing just sucked me in as of the very first line, and I simply couldn’t look away.
There are no bad guys here. You can’t look at Jesse or Sam and say that either one is a better person or is more deserving of Emma’s love. In fact, the author makes sure that we see just how special they both are. It wouldn’t really be a dilemma if it was an easy choice. Jesse and Sam are both devoted to Emma, but each represents something very different to her.
The book doesn’t shy away from pain and grief. Emma doesn’t just get over Jesse. We see her torment and devastation, her craziness, her defeat. Grief is a process and there are no shortcuts, and nothing is prettied up here. So when Emma meets Sam and decides to try going on a date, it’s a huge step for her, and one we want her to take. She’s been to hell and back. The fact that she can finally imagine a fresh, new love in her life is amazing, and we readers want her to be happy.
The writing is quite beautiful, exploring Emma’s complicated emotions and thought-processes. Ultimately, she realizes that it’s not a contest between two men or a question of who she loves more. They’re each a part of her; she loves them differently, not more or less. The real issue for Emma is who she is. Being with Jesse and being with Sam represents two very different versions of her life. She’s changed over the years, partly because she was forced to, and partly because she found new meaning for herself. In choosing the man to spend her future with, she’s also deciding which version of herself she wants to keep and nurture.
My quibbles with this book are small and fairly unimportant. One, the title. One True Loves? I’m sorry, but that’s just awkward. I would have much preferred it as Two True Loves, which sounds better from a word-appreciation standpoint (One True Loves just doesn’t flow off the tongue), and also captures the essence of the story. But what do I know? I’m not an editor.
The other issue I have is a plot point (SPOILER ALERT!), so maybe it should feel more major — but I choose to accept is as what it is and not get too hung up on it. And that is — the whole question of Jesse’s survival. Have you seen the Tom Hanks movie Castaway? Okay, this is basically that, but without the volleyball. Jesse floats in a liferaft from the sea near the Aleutian Islands all the way to a small rocky islet in the Pacific near Midway, where he lives for years on fish and rainwater, until he finally swims his way into the path of a passing ship. Um, okay? Really, it’s not the slightest bit believable… but I’m looking at this whole story as a romantic fairy tale of sorts, not a gritty real-world drama. What are the odds of Jesse surviving and coming home again? Slim to none. But hey, the point of this book is not the survival story — it’s about the love stories and the individual choice that Emma makes. How the characters get to where they are is less important than what they do once they get there.
But back to the positive…
Besides the great love story (stories), something that Taylor Jenkins Reid excels at is depicting female relationships in a way that feels real, showing them in all their complicated wonderfulness. Emma’s best friend is Olive, and she’s just a total hoot. Their friendship is a constant in Emma’s life, and even though Olive is in the story as a supporting character, she’s got dimensions and personality that are funny and fully formed. Likewise, the portrayal of Emma’s relationship with her sister feels true to life. Emma and Marie have a pretty typical teen relationship, barely tolerating each other, but we get to see how their commitment and love as sisters matures as they do, until they finally have an adult relationship that’s incredibly close and important.
I’ve read one other book by this author, Maybe In Another Life (review), and loved it as well. Her love stories are emotional but not sappy, and her characters deal with real-life emotions and dilemmas, even in situations that have an element of the fantastical to them. I plan to track down her two earlier novels — I have a feeling Taylor Jenkins Reid is going to earn a place on my “read everything she writes” list!
Check out One True Loves if you enjoy compelling love stories, relatable characters, and interesting, unexpected plots. Since it’s June, I guess this is the right time to say that One True Loves would be a perfect beach read!
Title: One True Loves
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: June 7, 2016
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley