May Contain Spoilers
Magnolia is a hard book to rate. For the most part, I really enjoyed this Shakespeare inspired YA romance. It’s Romeo and Juliet in reverse. Jemma and Ryder have been at odds ever since the 8th grade, when a misunderstanding drives them apart. Too bad their families keep pushing them together! Nothing would make their parents more happy than if they became a couple, and their mothers have been doing everything in their power to make that happen. From the time they were babies, they have shared cribs, vacations, and countless meals, but Jemma’s had enough. While once Ryder lit up her world, his cruel words have driven them apart, and Jemma can’t wait to get away from tiny Magnolia Branch so she doesn’t have to deal with him anymore.
Second chance at love is my favorite trope, so I was looking forward to reading this. After overhearing Ryder talking to his friends about her, Jemma’s young heart is crushed. While she has developed a huge crush on him, she thinks that he’s only being nice to her to please his over-controlling mom. She’s done everything in her power to avoid him for the last four years, but she seethes with anger every time she sees him. Worse, they usually end up arguing about the stupidest things, which makes her even more upset.
In her senior year, Jemma has big dreams for the future. She has a secret plan; she wants to attend film school in NYC, far away from her family and friends. And far away from Ryder. When her sister, Nan, is diagnosed with a life threatening illness, her dreams are derailed. Her parents have to fly to Houston with her sister for her treatment, leaving Jemma alone and confused. Frightened for the well-being of her one daughter, her mother refuses to even discuss letting Jemma apply to a school as far away as NYC. Worried and resigned that Nan’s future is more important than hers, Jemma waits at home, alone, for word of her sister’s progress.
While everyone is out of town, the worst hurricane since Katrina barrels down on Mississippi. This was my favorite part of the book, because the author captured the intensity of the storm so vividly. Howling winds, pelleting rains, surging floods – you name it, and Jemma and Ryder had to face these terrible threats alone. The whole storm sequence was engrossing and I couldn’t put the book down. Jemma and Ryder are forced to put their differences aside and work together to make it through the storm. They arrive at a truce, and maybe something more, until life returns back to normal in the aftermath of the hurricane. Then they are at odds again, but for entirely different reasons.
This is where the story fell ever so slightly off the rails for me, but I don’t want to go into detail because it’s a pretty major spoiler. Suffice it to say, this latest roadblock to true love seemed very contrived and I just didn’t buy into the tragedy. And, to be honest, it’s kind of hard to beat the tension and fear of eminent death brought on by the hurricane, so anything that happened after it blew itself out of town was kind of anticlimactic.
Review copy provided by publisher
Jemma and Ryder are far from friends—until a storm stirs up their passion in this contemporary southern romance from New York Times bestselling author Kristi Cook.
In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, The Cafferty and Marsden families are practically royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when the families finally have a baby boy and girl at the same time, the perfect opportunity seems to have arrived.
Except Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen—oh, and also? They hate each other. Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would prefer it if stubborn-headed Jemma didn’t exist. And their communication is not exactly effective: even a casual hello turns into a yelling match.
But when a violent Mississippi storm ravages through Magnolia Branch, it unearths feelings Jemma and Ryder didn’t know they had. And the line between love and hate just might be thin enough to cross…