MOM: “Do not consider me now as an elegant female, intending to plague you, but as a rational creature, speaking the truth from her heart.” Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 19.
KID: “Upon my word,” said her ladyship, “you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person.” Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 29
It’s Always Been You is the sequel to Victoria Dahl’s A Little Bit Wild, a historical romance that my daughter Kate and I both loved. (You can read my thoughts about it here.) Since she’s in the Midwest for graduate school, we don’t get as much time as we used to for talking about books we’ve both read. So we thought it would be fun to write a joint review, sort of along the lines of our usual conversations.
MOM: Whom did you want to slap more, Aidan or Kate? Both are delightfully imperfect characters, and they each say and do some things that push the other one away.
KID: That’s an excellent question. They were both so stubborn, but I think I wanted to slap Aidan more. I think it’s because he wooed her like she was a frightened animal, terrified of shattering an illusion that he kept about her. She’s a very strong woman, and I don’t think he wanted to see that, because he wanted to be the one to save her and protect her – he missed his chance before, and he wants to recreate that opportunity now.
MOM: Although this starts out as a classic plot of lovers kept apart by outside forces (primarily her family), that’s almost all backstory, which I think makes the book much more interesting and unique. They have changed. grown and lived in the years they were apart, and that’s the territory they have to navigate in order to get back together.
KID: I agree. Having the mistakes they made and the hurts they felt haunt them in the present day adds a weight to their obstacles that is really interesting – it’s more like their imaginations created obstacles that don’t really exist. Phantom obstacles. Like Aidan’s illusion about who she is and who he is. He has this whole setup in his mind of what her life was like because she won’t talk to him about it. For me, the conflict centered on perceived past versus perceived future. Aidan is more interested in who they were before, Kate is worried about who they are now and whether they’re compatible. Or, at least, she convinces herself she is until the idea of his past comes to the forefront as an obstacle.
MOM: Recently on Twitter, and in the comments to my TBR Challenge review last month, the subject has come up of dishonesty between main characters in romance. These two have been separated by lies that other people told, so they say they value honesty. And while both of them are angry about the ways in which the other has been less than honest, they each cling to their own lies and secrets until forced to acknowledge them. Does this mean they should be unable to trust each other in future? Does all the lying undermine their happy ending, or does something make you believe that they will have mutual trust going forward?
KID: I think Aidan and Kate more hold secrets than tell lies. Aidan’s big secret feeds Kate’s insecurities about whether they can love each other now. Kate’s withholding of her big secret is what causes Aidan’s imagination to keep feeding him horrible images of what her life was like. So it was definitely necessary to keep the tension going and to add to those phantoms. But the delightful thing about these two is that although they are older and wiser, they still feel innocent because of the joy with which they fall into each other. I think they will succeed going forward, now that the only things they were keeping from each other are out. And Victoria Dahl is very good at letting us know that this keeping of secrets is not a typical thing. They are terrified of keeping secrets from each other and, at least on Kate’s part, once the love is acknowledged the secret is something to be shared, not withheld.
MOM: I liked Aidan a lot as a hero. Poor guy, loses the woman he loves and then almost loses her again because of how he chose to cope with losing her the first time. It’s incredibly moving when he muses on the difference between making mistakes and making “awful, awful choices.” (ch. 28)
But Kate? Wow! Her determination and bravery just blew me away. The end of Chapter 31, when she puts herself out there emotionally, makes me weepy every time I reread it. I was really pulling for her in this book, after all she endured, to fight for what she wants and to win. The number of different ways she has to fight made the victory very rewarding to me as a reader.
KID: I admit to having an instant bias when a character is named Kate. It became very very difficult for me not to see myself in her, because I’ve been in that “I need to make a name and a place for myself without a man” position. She grows more over the course of this book than her time away before the book begins, I thought. I loved the analogy of her re-building the crumbled wall, putting each brick painstakingly in place. By the end of the book, she is strong enough to take action rather than letting her fears keep her frozen in inaction, and she can take the emotional risk in the passage you mentioned.
I was SO happy to see Marissa again! She hits the nail on the head with Aidan: “Is your pain so precious to you?” (ch. 28) The only thing about the ending that made me want to gnash my teeth is exactly that. Aidan is so used to the pain that, several times in the final chapters, he doesn’t notice Kate’s bravery and strength – and her willingness to see past the flaws to the beautiful man beneath. He’s blinded by his pain. But the gnashing of teeth is something I love about these characters, because they are, as Kate says, “good, not perfect.” Something Victoria Dahl does consistently well.
MOM: So those are our thoughts on this book. Congratulations to Victoria Dahl for being the first author double-teamed by Mom and Kid. Hopefully you won’t be the last; this was fun.