Heat Factor: A roaring fire at a log cabin
Character Chemistry: So much mutual lusting!
Plot Development: A quiet story about two people falling in love under abnormal circumstances
Overall: Starts slowly, ends with a bang
Let’s start with the tagline for this book, Lauren Connolly’s debut:
She’s agreed to give him her kidney, but he wants her heart.
I am not a medical ethicist. However, the premise of this book was ethically suspect. Here’s the deal: Holly’s brother needs a kidney. She wants to donate one to him, but they aren’t a match, so they enter a donor exchange program. Therefore, Holly will give her kidney to Ben, and Ben’s cousin will donate to Holly’s brother. This is all standard operating procedure. The medical diceyness occurs because everyone meets – including all the doctors – a few months before the operation, so they can decide if they want to be in contact leading up to the surgery. THIS IS A TERRIBLE PLAN, with so many ways that it could go wrong, all resulting in one or both parties not getting a kidney. (I did some googling, because I could not believe that this was standard operating procedure, and the only info I could find was from John’s Hopkins, which will facilitate a meeting between donor and recipient, after the operation has taken place, and only with consent from all parties.)
On the other hand, this premise meant that I initiated a bunch of conversations about medical ethics with various friends and relations. My conversation with my husband morphed into a discussion of whether there should be an open market for buying and selling kidneys (he’s an economist, what can I say). So – it is not every day that my incurable smut habit actually encourages me to think about medical issues.
I’ll be honest, the first few chapters were a slog. I was annoyed by the premise, and I could not get into the characters. Ben is all world-weary about having dated a few girls and not finding true love, and I was like, “YOU’RE IN COLLEGE, GET OVER YOURSELF.” Ben and Holly bond about loving a morning talk show, and I was like, “NO ONE LIKES THOSE, WHAT?!?!?!” Holly breaks things off with her hook-up buddy, a medical resident, and I was like, “WHY DO I CARE ABOUT THIS GUY? ALSO, WHY WAS HE INTO SOMEONE WHO COULDN’T EVEN LEGALLY DRINK YET?” They drive everywhere, and I was like, “UPENN AND RITTENHOUSE SQUARE ARE NOT THAT FAR APART, TAKE THE DAMN BUS.” There was a lot of yelling involved.
However, the rest of the book is completely worth reading. Ben and Holly develop a really sweet relationship. Connolly allows their friendship to grow slowly as they try to suppress their mutual lust. Once they get together, the sex is hot and the use of consent is overtly sensual. The way they talk to each other is completely realistic for their characters. They both learn about loosening up and living life to the fullest, rather than the character growth being one-sided, as is often the case.
For me, the turning point from not loving it to loving it happened about five chapters in, when Holly acknowledges her attraction to Ben, and then spells out the reasons she is apprehensive about pursuing a relationship. To wit:
- If something goes wrong, the donor exchange could be in danger, and her brother might not get a kidney.
- If she initiates things, Ben may go along with her to keep her happy, because he wants her kidney, so how can she know whether the relationship is real?
Her stupid roommate is like, wow, you have trust issues, but I was like, YES. THANK YOU! HOLLY IS BEING COMPLETELY REASONABLE HERE.
Holly’s completely rational plan is to stay friendly with Ben, and then once he has her kidney and they’ve both recovered from surgery, she’ll start to feel out whether he’s still interested in hanging out with her, and initiate a potential relationship from there.
Unfortunately, Ben also has the hots for Holly, and in classic 21-year-old male fashion, is too horny to wait. The scene where he confesses his feelings is particularly well done; reading it, it feels like the characters weren’t written, but rather are responding organically to the situation, based on what we already know about them. At this point in the novel, Connolly has successfully built two characters with distinctive voices (even if I found some of their interior monologues grating, they were consistent and real), so they are able to actually have a conversation about their desires.
As a bonus, Ben’s confession leads to an excellent kissing sequence.
The majority of the conflict comes from the characters’ own insecurities about the relationship. Holly worries about the impact their relationship may have on the kidney exchange. Ben worries that Holly will see him as weak. But the drama isn’t manufactured – the stakes from the get-go are already high. (There is some nonsense with ex-partners of both protagonists, which was frankly unnecessary.)
Connolly resolves her story in a really satisfying manner. Without going into details, the way things work out, Holly giving Ben a kidney becomes an act of love, instead of a simple quid pro quo.
The book is a bit uneven, but overall, a satisfying read. My recommendation: Give the book a shot. Read 6 chapters before you make up your mind.
Bonus Material! Connolly is releasing her newest novella for free in serial form. (I have not read it, I do not have the patience to wait.) If you want to check out her writing, here’s part 1. (As of publication, Parts 1-5 were available.)
Buy Now: Amazon
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