Review: Only When It’s Us by Chloe Liese (2020)

Bergman Brothers, Book 1

Heat Factor: They’re not virgins but it’s pretty first love type stuff

Character Chemistry: Solidly “I’m going to antagonize you because that’s how we demonstrate our affection instead of being vulnerable”

Plot: A pair of 21-year-olds with baggage try to figure out how to adult

Overall: Heart eyes

To borrow a term from Ingrid, these protagonists are seriously messy, which typically makes me angry and/or frustrated while reading, but I was able to embrace the personalities of these protagonists and really, really enjoy this book. My atypical forbearance is likely directly attributable to the fact that these protagonists have a ton of baggage and they’re also 21, so I knew I should really keep my expectations for responsible adult behavior … moderated. 

We’ll begin with Willa because the book begins in her voice. Willa is a student athlete who is going to be a professional soccer player. It’s going to happen. As long as she doesn’t fail her Business Mathematics class. Oh, also, her mom is basically a permanent resident of the oncology ward at the hospital down the road. 

Willa, Willa, Willa. She has seriously–seriously–unhealthy methods of coping with situations that stress her out. Which is, like, every situation. In life, she can’t deal with confrontation, so she does a poor job of communicating with her professor when she needs special assistance in his class as a result of being a student athlete. She also completely and totally bombs her first interaction with Ryder because she communicates poorly and then jumps to conclusions. When Willa and Ryder are thrown together and become “frenemies,” she refuses to let them be truly friends or anything more because she fears nothing more than being vulnerable and needing anyone. Willa’s pretty fierce, which is awesome, but it’s primarily because she has such an unhealthy way of interacting with the world, which is unfortunate.

For his part, Ryder is not, as Willa first assumes, an asshole. He’s deaf. And he doesn’t speak because he can’t hear himself anymore. Overall, Ryder’s baggage and struggle is just as real as Willa’s, but it’s much better managed. Ryder has a big, supportive family and friend group–even if his surly attitude has alienated many of them–so his support network is more robust than Willa’s. He had planned to be a professional soccer player, too, but when he got bacterial meningitis right before his first year of college, he lost his hearing and his balance, and therefore his dream. Because his interactions with people are necessarily limited due to his hearing loss (and he didn’t know sign language before he lost his hearing, so his ability to sign is still not robust), he struggles with how his life changed dramatically almost overnight, so he copes by effectively hiding in plain sight. 

To try to boil down what made my heart happy while reading this book, I’ll make a list:

  1. Professor as asshole matchmaker. I don’t even care if he shouldn’t have done what he ultimately did. It was perfect. 
  2. Willa and Ryder’s dynamic was on point for a pair of young lovers who don’t want to get vulnerable with each other but totally want to jump each other’s bones. They’re so angsty and confused. Ah, to be 21 again…
  3. Ryder’s struggle with his hearing loss filled my heart. He doesn’t like wearing his hearing aids because they make some aspects of his hearing loss worse, but he hears Willa’s voice with his better ear and wants to hear more and – OH! Be still my heart. The moment when he hears her voice. Totally got me. 
  4. Willa struggles super hard. With reason. Her mother has been her only support system and constant for her whole life, and she has to come to terms with the idea that her mother’s cancer treatment is not working and she will die. She is really badso bad–at healthy functioning under stress. But she does seek professional help. GOOD. She should.
  5. The writing is evocative and constructed to feel like the voice of feisty, angsty new adults. I don’t know of another book I’ve read recently with so many poignant or funny one-liners. And there are a number of reminders that we might be making ableist assumptions in our daily lives.  
  6. It comes with a playlist. This absolutely worked for me, because I believe in mood music, and also I enjoyed the content of the playlist. It’s really easy to access the playlist in Spotify if you don’t want to try to construct it yourself, but if you don’t want to engage with it at all you also have the option simply to…not. 

Toward the end, I felt that Ryder was achieving unicorn-level patience and understanding, but I understood the point that he was trying to make to Willa, and she needed the support, so that’s how that goes. 

The more I think about this book, the more I love it. What a satisfying read. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

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