Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Review: Never Just Friends by Mina V. Esguerra (New Adult Contemporary)


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For readers in the Philippines, Mina V. Esguerra's books are available for ordering online at National Bookstore

If Lindsey and Jake's love story were ever a headline for those Facebook posts, it's definitely a link people with click: Lindsey works for an environmental protection agency, and Jake is a famous TV star. They are long-time friends who met in university and are secretly in love with each other. They finally have a chance to reconnect and see if sparks will fly.

The fun part? It's Jake who makes the first move. It's Jake who wants to commit, and it's Lindsey who is hesitant about giving their relationship a chance.

"You love me, don't you?"

"Yes," she said quickly. "That's not the problem at all."
-p. 83

I've been reflecting on these 2 lines since I read it, because I think it perfectly highlights the challenges faced by couples in a contemporary romance: love is no longer the end goal, but is only part of the journey because commitment (and marriage) isn't automatic.

Since I read mostly historical romances, I couldn't help but compare the two genres. I kept trying to see differences between contemporary and historical romance issues -- but, found how some exchanges are startlingly similar: there are issues of trust and truth, of me versus we, etc.

At the heart of their problem are two things:
#1 After years of being friends, Jake dropped out of Lindsey's life with no explanation. Leaving Lindsey to wonder about it.
#2 They're both casually seeing other people.

I thought the second issue was a bit tricky to tackle, but Mina Esguerra really did a good job of untangling it. The author recognized it was messy, and allowed her characters to experience the repercussions. I thought she handled it in a realistic way, especially with the awkward confrontation. (Read pp. 94-96)

I could see the depth of friendship between our main characters, and it made me realise just how risky this new stage is for them -- and how much they would lose if it didn't work out. But Jake is determined, and Lindsey loves him. I thought half the battle had been won already.

The other issue is about truth and trust -- something happened in Jake's life that Lindsey didn't know about. It's a scary position for a friend to be in -- to be kept out of the dark of something, and then be left to imagine the worst possible situations. It's even more scary when you are actually in love with said friend. I understand how betrayed Lindsey felt, and why she is hesitant to trust Jake completely. Jake has a history of leaving whenever the situation got too overwhelming (college finals, etc) -- and Lindsey doesn't want to be the one left behind again.

Lindsay and Jake are working on an environmental issue, and, as seen in the author's acknowledgement page, she had done her research very well, having thanked a number of resource persons. And it amazed me how well Esguerra was able to translate such complicated concepts and made them accessible and easy to understand. It is also a testament to how precise her writing and vision is -- one can sense the intent to shine the spotlight on the problems facing environmental advocates, especially when it comes to raising awareness and funds. But Mina Esguerra is able to give enough detail to make one curious, but not too much that it would overshadow the primary focus of this story -- which is Jake and Lindsey. There really is a wonderful balance to her story.

While there is a happy ending to this story, one also gets a sense that it isn't happily-ever-after -- which is not a bad thing, really. You know that this is a couple who will continue to work and negotiate and talk in order to make their relationship work. So, yes, there's an ending -- but it really isn't the end. (Such a post-modern thing. ^_^)

The one very, very small aspect of the story that continues to bug me is this: isn't there a rule about mixing romance and work? Lindsey and Jake seem to be breaking this particular rule, and none of their friends (or Lindsey's family) or their boss seem to mind.

Never Just Friends is part of Mina Esguerra's Spotlight New Adult series. To find out more about Mina Esguerra and her books, click below:

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