March 31, 2017

"One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died."

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley

Release Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Gallery Books
Pages: 336 pages
Source & Format: Author; ARC
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Summary (from Goodreads)
One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died... 

And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from. 

One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition... 

Thoughts on Close Enough to Touch
I fell totally and completely in love with Colleen Oakley's debut, Before I Go, when I first read it back in 2014. It's the story of a twenty-seven-year-old woman who is about to celebrate three years of being cancer-free but learns that her cancer is back with an aggressive stage four diagnosis. Y'all, it earned a spot on my forever favorites shelf immediately. Here's how I'd try to sell you on it in one sentence: both heartbreaking and hopeful, Before I Go captures the blessing of love, the beauty of life, and the burden of leaving both of them behind. (And yes, I'm beginning my review of Oakley's most recent book by trying to make sure you've already read her previous one. Because I loved it that much!)

Now, let me press pause on my Before I Go book pushing so that I can convince you to pick up Close Enough to Touch. I was honestly so nervous before starting this book. Before I Go was Colleen's debut - I had nothing to compare it to and no backlist to binge once I was done. What if this story didn't live up to my expectations? Or suffered from that dreaded sophomore slump? I knew there was a good chance I'd still love her writing style, but I still tried not to get my hopes up when I opened to the first page. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about! Colleen has written another moving story with unforgettable characters.

The first chapter begins with a sentence that made me sit up and take notice: "One time, a boy kissed me and I almost died." I'm sorry, WHAT?! And the story that followed was just as interesting and compelling as that beginning promised. Jubilee Jenkins has an incredibly rare medical condition: she's allergic to other humans. After the kiss that almost killed her, Jubilee has become a recluse. But her safe and predictable existence is turned upside when her mother dies, forcing her to finally face the world outside. That's when she meets Eric Keegan, who just moved to her small New Jersey town for work. His life feels out of control: his marriage has failed, his daughter is no longer speaking to him and his adopted son is obsessed with telekinetic destruction. Eric and Jubilee soon realize that they may be able to help each other in ways they never expected.

Chapters alternate between Jubilee and Eric, which I loved. I'm not always a fan of multiple POVs in a book, but it definitely worked in this case. It helped me to get to know the characters better and become more invested in their stories. And though they are facing such different personal challenges - one incredibly rare and one perhaps a little more relatable - I thought there was a lovely commonality between them. They're both struggling and feeling disconnected from the world. And that helped me understand why they'd be drawn to each other but still seem so guarded and unsure of everything because of their histories.

Although their relationship was at the heart of the book, there were a number of other relationships that I really loved. Jubilee had a really difficult relationship with her mother, which affected her entire life. On one hand, her mother enabled her by making it possible for Jubilee to live with no financial responsibilities for nine years. But on the other hand, her mother basically abandoned her physically and emotionally. That complex family dynamic was fascinating and one moment in particular made me so emotional. Then there's the burgeoning friendship between Jubilee and Madison, someone she knew in high school. And you can't forget Jubilee's new co-workers and patrons at the library where she finds a job - each memorable in their own way!

But my favorite relationship in the book is the one between Jubilee and Aja, Eric's adopted son. I don't know if sharing any details about how Aja came into Eric's life would be considered a spoiler, so I'll just avoid it out of caution. But I will simply say that Jubilee and Aja share a special kinship - she understands him and can communicate with him in a way that Eric doesn't. There's a scene between them that totally made me cry, and I don't cry easily while reading! My heart ached for the pain Aja experienced and the ways that he tried to cope with his grief. But I loved that he found a kindred spirit in Jubilee and that she helped him open up.

There are moments of pain and joy in these pages, and I would definitely describe this as a character-driven story. It may not always seem like a lot is happening, but I loved the way the characters were fleshed out. They were human - prickly, occasionally unlikeable, somehow both impulsive and cautious, but still people you come to love. There's an Epilogue in this book, and I won't say much about it except: I WAS ON AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER. But whew, I breathed a deep sigh of contentment when I closed the last page and then rushed off to email Colleen to tell her that she gave me a minor heart attack. You know, nothing major.

I already knew that I loved Colleen's writing, but this book just sealed the deal. Close Enough to Touch was a story of family - the one you're born with and the one you discover along the way - and finding the courage to face your fears. It's an unlikely love story, a testament to the power of stories, and a reminder that we all long to feel connected to people. It was so delightful to read and will definitely be on my "Best of 2017" lists at the end of the year. So, grab a copy and discover its beauty for yourself! (And add a copy of Before I Go to your cart while you're at it, if you haven't read that one yet. #sorrynotsorry)

So Quotable
"... and I know that if I've learned anything, it's that love is messy. It doesn't come to us in a perfect box all wrapped up in a bow. It's more like a gift from a child, crayon-scrawled and crumpled. Imperfect. But always a gift just the same."
*I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

3 comments:

  1. I loved this one too! I really had no idea what to expect ahead of it, but couldn't stop turning pages once I got started. I still need to read BEFORE I GO (even though I've owned it for years, since seeing your review!)

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  3. This was a great read and was much more of a page turner than I had predicted. I liked it even more that Before I Go actually.

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