Title: Unbreak Me
Author: Michelle Hazen
Format: Paperback/eBook, 304 pages
Expected publication: Aug 13th 2019 by Berkley
Links: GoodReads | Amazon | B&N
Source: First Reads GoodReads
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Wine Glasses
What could two troubled souls from different walks of life have in common? Maybe everything.
Andra Lawler lives isolated at her family’s horse ranch, imprisoned by the memories of an assault in college. When she needs help training her foals, she hires a Haitian-Creole cowboy from New Orleans with a laugh as big as the Montana sky.
LJ Delisle can’t stand the idea that Andra might be lonely—or eating frozen TV dinners. He bakes his way into her kitchen with a lemon velvet cake, and offers her cooking lessons that set them on the road to romance. But even their love can’t escape the shadow of what they've been through. Despite their growing friendship and his gentle rapport with the horses, LJ is still an outsider facing small-town suspicions.
Before they can work through their issues, LJ is called home by a family emergency. In the centuries-old, raggedly rebuilt streets of New Orleans, he must confront memories of Hurricane Katrina and familiar discrimination. And Andra must decide if she’s brave enough to leave the shelter of the ranch for an uncertain future with LJ.
L.J. loves horses but opportunities to make a living training them in New Orleans are slim, so when he manages to get offered a job in Montana, he wants to take the chance. Leaving the Ninth Ward community and his mother who suffers from Lupus is hard but L.J. has a dream and when he catches sight of Andra, she starts to become a part of them.
It's been five years since Andra was kidnapped but her panic attacks haven't stopped and the only time she feels free is working with her horses. She has to fight to hire L.J. onto her father's ranch but there is something about him that calms her being in his presence.
L.J. and Andra are two souls looking to separate their pasts from their futures and through each other might just find the strength to love everything about themselves.
Everything that had been done to her body was public property.
Unbreak Me was a very character driven story focusing almost completely on the lead characters Andra and L.J. Their backstories and all the pain that came with them, matched each other even in their differences. In college Andra was drugged, kidnapped, and raped. She lives in a smaller town in Montana, so the trial and all the details were public knowledge. The townspeople know the whole story and side-eye her all the time and her own family isn't quite sure how to act around her. The author did a commendable job getting Andra's pain across the pages, the isolation, the guilt, the anger, and caged in feeling from people only seeing you one way now. Her father, brother, and bestfriend didn't quite get enough page time to be fully flushed out characters but even their absence from the pages helped to show how Andra felt alone and trapped into this new singular existence.
L.J. was a character who at first seemed completely affable, fun, and carefree but as we get to know him more, you see that while that is part of his natural disposition, he still works at coming off that way. He carries the pain, anger, and horror from surviving Hurricane Katrina and what it means to be a six foot five black male in America. His struggle to take care of his mother, still give back to where he comes from, and honor his own dreams was affecting. The attraction and connection he felt towards Andra seemed a bit fast or instant, in terms of the repercussions he could experience from it but their time together was slow moving and written very deliberately.
“I don't want your daddy to be right about me, Andie-girl.” The words were so low they were no more than a rumble in the places where his neck touched her forehead.
“I don't want him to be right about me, either.” she whispered back. And she didn't let go.
Through L.J. and Andra, this story touches a little on sexism and heavier on racism. The societal stratagems aren't expounded or deeply thought out but rather how internally racism effects L.J. emotionally and externally physically and opportunity wise. Andra's father plays a role in showing how ignorance isn't an excuse and how Andra needs to learn to see what L.J. is telling her instead of trying to explain instances away to try to make things more comfortable. While these weighty issues aren't delved very deep into, they are touched on in how though L.J. and Andra might have a connection, relationships don't happen in a vacuum, racism effects become a conflict between the two but not enough to give such a weighty issue it's due.
These people weren't untouched by their past, and they didn't expect her to be, either.
This was a very deliberately paced story with L.J. working to get Andra to be comfortable around him and be able to act on and enjoy the chemistry they had between each other. Even with a more thoughtful pace, I thought the story worked well on capturing the reader but I also thought a little latter in the second half the story started to drag and lose it's drive when L.J. and Andra were in New Orleans.
The ending was also quick to wrap up, these two had some pretty big issues laid out and the bow felt somewhat simplistic. However, L.J. and Andra were two characters that definitely pull you into their world and you'll feel for all their emotional ups and downs. There are no easy answers to hard problems but having a caring hand to hold along the way can make all the difference, and it doesn't hurt if they're a Stetson wearing man who can cook southern style.
She grinned, and blushed the tiniest bit. “Next time we do that, will you wear your cowboy hat?”