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4.5 heart-shattering stars
After reading (and LOVING) Sweet Home, I was really excited to continue on with this series and thought I knew exactly what to expect. Oh, how wrong I was. Tillie Cole stunned me with the depth and emotional intensity of this book. She made me fall in love with two broken souls, both struggling with the demons of their past and desperately trying to find some happiness, and then she broke my heart, ripped it from my body and stomped all over it before putting it all back together again. She has given us a beautiful, insightful story with a heartachingly gorgeous romance that held me absolutely captivated – I read it in one sitting, unable to put it down – and I absolutely loved it.
“We all have secrets … Some people’s are bigger than others, that’s all.”
Lexi and Austin were both introduced in Sweet Home. Lexi is the quiet but perky goth girl who is friends with Molly, and Austin is the tattooed and pierced football-playing best friend of Rome. The timeline of this story matches up with events in Sweet Home, so Molly and Rome’s storyline is playing out in the background of everything that is happening with Lexi and Austin, so I’d recommend starting with that one first. But if you think from that book you can guess Lexi and Austin’s history, or predict how their story will play out, guess again.
Sometimes, someone could stumble unannounced into the train wreck that is your life and begin to pull you out of the heavy rubble weighing down on your chest.
Lexi’s cheery personality is a façade that she puts on to hide a deadly secret. She hides behind goth make-up and shapeless clothes, putting on a cheerful front so that nobody knows the horror that she lives with, and nobody sees the real her – the girl that she loathes. After years of therapy, she has put herself out there for the first time since she was 16 and has fulfilled her dream of attending college and being a cheerleader. And though she is technically ‘cured’, her demons continue to plague her. Her recovery is a day-by-day effort, and every day is a mental struggle that she must fight to remain healthy. And bravo to Tillie Cole for writing Lexi the way that she did, and for putting so much heart into this brave but terrified girl and her often misunderstood illness. Her battle is realistically and hauntingly written, and gives a chilling insight into people struggling with the disorder.
“I don’t need to look up at the stars to feel inferior, Austin. All I have to do is open my eyes and look at myself in the mirror.
Austin’s home life was always difficult. He is the middle of three brothers, and was raised by a wonderfully loving mother after their father left; but they were dirt poor, living in a trailer in a bad neighbourhood and when their mother became ill, Austin’s older brother, Axel was drawn into a notorious and violent gang, dealing drugs and doing whatever else was necessary in order to make money to keep a roof over their heads and pay for their Mamma’s treatments. Soon Austin was sucked into the life, but was able to escape to attend college and play football on a scholarship – a future in the NFL would secure his family’s future. But now, with him close to graduation and his mother only getting sicker, Austin’s younger brother Levi is being pulled into the gang, and Austin himself is never far enough away from the lifestyle and the danger that surrounds it, and suddenly all that he has worked for is under threat.
“You see, Pix, I have scars too. It’s just mine are on the outside where everyone can see.
Lexi and Austin are thrust into each other’s lives in the worst of circumstances. Lexi sees something she shouldn’t, immediately becoming the one person who can destroy Austin’s family, and in order to protect them, he has to be the big badass who threatens her to keep quiet. It’s an awful beginning for them, and when their friends hook up, it leads to lots of awkward encounters, but things slowly start to shift. Lexi and Austin recognise something in each other – a hidden pain that is sadly familiar – and as their private lives unexpectedly begin to intersect more often, they start to open up to each other. And in each other they find comfort, understanding and acceptance that neither of them realised they needed, somebody to talk to and take comfort from. And as they grow closer, feelings start to develop, and I fell right along with them.
“Pix, I need you”…
“I think…I think I might need you too.”
Their relationship develops naturally and realistically, and I loved every moment of it! And it’s not all emo and broody, they have fun together too and they cherish those lighter, happy moments. Austin’s circumstances mean that their relationship has to be kept quiet in order to keep Lexi safe, and that added a really nice sense of ‘specialness’ as they exist in their little bubble, being each other’s touchstone and support in the mayhem of their lives. They are both hiding terrible and painful secrets, yet they are so open with each other, and I love that they were able to find something so important, unexpected and special, despite all that they were dealing with.
“You fuckin’ bulldozed me, Pix. You, my tiny dark pixie, made all my defences crumble to dust.”
But privately, things are deteriorating, and fighting off their demons becomes near impossible.
I’m lost without you.
I can’t breathe without you.
Without you here, all I can do is fall…
OMG, the feels! You know what’s coming, and you know it’s going to be bad, but when it happened, it just gutted me! I was in tears for the last few chapters of the book, devastated by everything that happened and the emotion that Cole managed to pour into it all.
When you’re ready, look up. I am waiting for you, baby. I’ll always be there, waiting for you.
Part of Lexi and Austin’s struggles with their pasts is hiding who they really are, sometimes not even acknowledging it to themselves, and I thought the slow reveal of everything that they are, and everything that they feel was really well written, and a wonderful way to reflect their deepening relationship. This book is as much a story of Lexi and Austin’s personal journeys as it is a story of them together, and I thought the balance of personal growth and the healing that comes from finding love, true acceptance, and somebody to depend on, was really well done
“We all have secrets. Secrets well buried. Until we find the one soul who makes the burden of such secrets just that little bit easier to bear.”
This is a beautifully written story. Full of drama, angst, torment and heartache, it’s also incredibly uplifting, with an amazing love story, and an epilogue that finishes everything off beautifully.
I loved it – 4.5 stars
The Sweet Home Series
For similar reads, see our NA Recommendations page
And for more reads by this author, see our Tillie Cole Author Spotlight