Recommended Read, Review

Review: Her Unexpected Roommate by Jackie Lau (2022)

Cider Bar Sisters, Book #5

Review of the rest of the (excellent) Cider Bar Sisters series: Book #1, Book #2, Bonus Novella #2.5, Book #3, Book #4

Heat Factor: Things go from steamy to simmering to scorching. 

Character Chemistry: I mean, they’re not fated mates but they’re so well-suited for each other that it pretty much feels like they are.

Plot: Rose meets what was supposed to be a one night stand, who turns into a potential BIG DEAL, only to have him ghost her…and then show up as her new roommate. WHAT.

Overall: This book is a sticky one. As in, it’s going to stick in my heart for a while, because it was so, so charming and lovely.

After reading the author’s foreword, I was a little worried—a romance novel that deals with treatment resistant depression and parent suicide threw up a few flags for me. In my experience, romance novels have really struggled to capture what it’s like falling in love with a severe mental illness—it’s usually either “I’ve been miraculously healed by this magical human and now can’t be without them!” or it’s “this is supposed to be romantic but instead I’m a little concerned about the long-term health and appropriateness of this relationship”. I’ve read some really great ones, but it’s sometimes a little clunky to hit the right notes of reality and sweeping romance. Because the truth is that people who live with mental illness fall in love all the time and deserve love stories just like anyone else—but if we as a society treat people who live with mental illness like they’re a burden to potential romantic partners, how are we supposed to represent those relationships in fiction?

Well, apparently we do it like Rose and Cal. Rose has her treatment resistant depression pretty well in check. She knows what helps and what hurts, and she takes her needs pretty seriously. For example, when she sleeps at Cal’s house during what was supposed to be their one-night-stand that was maybe going to be something more but then turned back into a one-night-stand, she’s initially pretty euphoric and drowsy—until she wakes up and realizes she’s in a room that doesn’t have the supports she needs for a good night’s rest, she’s left her antidepressants at home, and they guy who just rocked her world snores and is apparently a human space heater. When Cal checks in on her during her moment of overwhelm, he asks her what she needs to sleep and feel better. White noise, a stuffed animal, and no cuddling. Sure, the stuffed animal and the teary meltdown in the middle of the night might look a little childish superficially, but there’s a very mature and self-aware firmness to the conversation—Rose has done this before. She knows what she needs, and her only insecurity here is whether the person she’s been intimate with will be willing to support those needs. And what goes from charming to romantic is that Cal considers the entire situation to be no big deal and carries on with romancing and supporting her exactly the way she is.

Unfortunately, immediately after that adorable meet-cute, we learn that Cal’s phone gets smashed by a car and he can’t actually call her back. He tries to find her alpaca Instagram account but beyond that, there’s not much he can do besides stalk her, and this is not that kind of romance novel.

Rose ends up slipping into a depression after she’s ghosted by Cal. The way it reads, she takes a ton of risky deviations from her comfort zone the night she goes home with Cal and even though it’s pretty clear that from Rose’s perspective, her slide into depression is not remotely Cal’s fault, it feels like a factor nonetheless. So when she discovers that her new roommate is THE Cal, she’s not exactly happy about it.

Cal is absolutely still smitten with Rose. His way of wooing Rose is to quietly remove burdens from her life and to just be with her, essentially. Not in an “I’m saving her with my pity” kind of way, just very matter of factly and with respect and kindness. It’s tender and it’s calm, and their relationship feels very much like Rose’s favorite comfort tools—a cuddle with a soft plushie while watching a favorite show with someone that smells good.

In fact, this is how cute this story gets—Rose has a stuffed alpaca she has set up an Instagram account for. Far from being weirded out by Rose’s hobby, Cal goes out and gets a stuffed turtle, names it Shelly, and finds fun ways for their plushies to have staged photoshoots together. It’s extremely cute. Cute to the max, actually.

Needless to say, this book was a hit. It walked the line between a tender and passionate love story and the difficult realities of life beautifully and with great poise and honesty. 

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

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