Let's begin with the things I liked a lot. Oliver! I liked Oliver so much. He is everything I like in a guy -- helpful, kind, thoughtful, never pushy, respectful, relaxed, funny, playful, and great at chopping wood. He was definitely my favorite, and I basically liked him from the get-go.
Josie was also an interesting bundle of conflictedness. She's mourning her dad, she's trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life, she's convinced she's falling in love with a guy who lived two hundred years ago... Josie has a lot going on. She struggles, she flails, she rises, she sinks, she rises again. Half the time I wanted to hug her, and half the time I wanted to give her a stern talking-to. So I'd say she was a very realistic character in a lot of ways. But she tried my patience at times. Still, in the end, I liked her.
Elias, I just... was frustrated by. It bothered me how he convinces himself he's in love with a girl he's met once and can't stop obsessing over her, to the point that he pushes away everyone trying to help him and be kind to him. I get that he's had a really hard life, and I get that he's been emotionally abused in the past. But I found him clingy and obsessive. I was happy for him by the end, though.
Josie's best friend Faith was nice, and I liked how supportive she was of Josie, but I never felt like I really got to know her very well. Mostly, she was just a sounding board for Josie's thoughts.
SPOILERS: I was also frustrated by the lack of closure on the possible time-travel? It was talked about and played with, and I just wish there had been a definite "yeah, he totally met someone else" or something. This is a ME thing, though -- I demand closure and don't handle ambiguous endings and unresolved plot strings well. That's part of why I love specific mystery writers so much -- I know I can trust them to deliver definitive answers. Usually. END SPOILERS.
I do have a nit to pick with the author and editors, though, and that regards their sloppy historical inaccuracies. Coasters for drinks were a thing in the early 1900s, not the early 1800s. I'm quite confident no one writing in the 1820s would have used the phrase "had messed with his mind" (p. 133). 'Okay' comes from American slang of the late 1830s and was spelled as "OK" until well into the twentieth century, when 'okay' became the new spelling. Those were all used by someone writing in the 1820s, and I'm not cool with it. When I write and edit my books, I spend hours and hours and hours checking words, phrases, and names for things to see if they would have been in use in the year the particular book I'm writing is set. My editor does the same. I'm sure we miss a few things, but there are only two of us. This is a book published by a major publishing house and presumably passing the scrutiny of multiple editors and proofreaders. Tsk tsk. (There's also an anachronistic use of the term 'turducken,' which wasn't coined until the 1970s, but that gets a pass because of plot points later on, and because the concept of cooking animals inside other animals has been a thing since Medieval times, at least.)
Yes, that's nit-picky. Yes, those were minor things. Yes, it did bug me enough to write that whole paragraph up about it, though.
So, in the end, this was a fun, fast read. I liked how it wove emails and texts and letters and a novel-within-the-novel together, and it was never hard to follow who was saying what, so that's pretty impressive. It had a lot of great lines and some wonderful themes about grieving, support, loss, friendship, kindness, and real love versus imagined love. I especially liked how it showcased the dangers of wrapping all your emotions around a person you don't know, be they a person you met once or a fictional character (and it could extend to obsessions with celebrities too), while not caring for those real people in your real life. So I do recommend it, overall. Also, it's nominally Christian fiction, the kind where characters sometimes talk about praying.
Particularly Good Bits:
"I blame literature for her behavior. A lady who reads too many words eventually feels the need to voice some of her own" (p. 49).
Nobody knows what they're doing. We just put our best foot forward and give life a go (p. 58).
People who laugh at themselves make superb company (p. 115).
"I do believe literature holds the best of us... or perhaps it reflects the better versions of who we are" (p. 138).
...grief can't be hurried or pummelled with self-help. It's just there (p. 195).
We are moulded by our circumstances, but we are not our parents' mistakes. We are not the errors inflicted upon us (p. 269).
Lots of girls believe they'll be happier once they find Prince Charming, but marriage isn't a fairy godmother waving a wand to change a pumpkin into a carriage. It doesn't instantly transform people into better versions of themselves. Instead, it brings couples together and asks them to use love as a reason to become better (p. 296).
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for the use of the repeated use of the word 'bastard' in its literal meaning of 'an illegitimate child.' No actual bad language, no racy scenes, no violence. Some kissing.
This is the 11th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021