Wish Me Tomorrow marks Karen Rock's adult romance debut, and while I found some aspects of the story uneven, its strong emotional core make her an author to keep an eye on.
When she was a high school senior, Christie Bates' brother (who was only 18-months-older) finally succumbed to his long battle with leukemia. An event like this effects people in a variety of ways, and for Christie it meant she went to nursing school and became a grief counselor. In fact, that's how she meets Eli Roberts. Eli brings his neighbor, John, to Christie's cancer support group. A single father, Eli's bone cancer is in remission, which is how he met John - while they were both in the middle of chemo. Christie wears her optimism on her sleeve and is a very positive person. So you can imagine Eli's reaction when she starts spouting various platitudes.
However, these two are eventually thrown together thanks to a crisis - and spend even more time together thanks to Eli's family situation. His children, Becca and Tommy, have been acting out. Especially Becca, who is one step away from flunking the eighth grade. You guessed it - grief counselor Christie finds herself drawn not only to the family in crisis, but sexy Eli as well.
Looking over my reading spreadsheet, I'm almost ready to declare 2013 The Year Of The Cancer Romance. I didn't set out to do it on purpose, but I've read a number of books this year featuring cancer survivors. What makes this one notable is that it's the hero, and not the heroine (seriously, lots o' breast cancer reads this year). It was a welcome change of pace, to see a hero, a man, coping with this sort of health crisis - and might I add - not coping with it terribly well. Eli's solution to his cancer is to shut everyone out, including his children. He thinks he's sheltering them, saving them from worrying over the details. When in reality? By not talking about it - he's scaring the hell out of them.
Christie is the sort of romance heroine who could get on my last good nerve if it weren't for her heartbreaking emotional back-story. She is a bit of a Polly Perfect - sunny, optimistic - but it turns out that sunshine happy-go-lucky exterior is covering up a wounded interior. When she finally bares her soul to Eli I found myself with tears streaming down my cheeks. Literally, I was crying. My throat started to close up and I sniffled. I sniffled for cripes sake!
What didn't work so well for me was how every other woman in Christie's age bracket was portrayed in this story. Eli, conveniently, has one of those ex-wives that I'm beginning to think only exist in Romancelandia. Eli gets cancer, she leaves, and essentially abandons the children (She, literally, never sees them. Never returns their phone calls. Nothing. Nada.) Eli even tells Christie that the ex never wanted to have children. Um, and she ends up having two? Look, I know a lot of women feel pressure to have children - but the ex is never written in a way that makes me think she would feel "pressure" to conform (just the opposite actually). So how the hell did she end up with two kids? What, did Eli crawl up her vagina and take her ovaries hostage? None of it makes sense, other than to be a convenient way to justify Eli having "trust issues" and being a single father. Then there's the Overly Pushy Dance Mom (Becca's in dance) that aggressively flirts with Eli in front of Christie. I get it, Christie is sweetness and light, but Christie can show off some claws when she has to. Degenerating another female isn't the only way an author can further develop a heroine's character. I'm sorry, it isn't.
However, that's really my only serious quibble - well, other than the ending. Rock ends it the way I think she has to - especially if she wants any sort of realism to her story. Our couple does end up together in the end. They do declare their feelings openly, to each other. However, Eli has bone cancer. You don't need to be a rocket scientist (or even an expert in cancer) to realize that isn't exactly something that magically goes away with the wave of a wand and a sprinkle of fairy dust. So while there is a happy ending, there is a wee bit of a cloud hanging overhead. While that didn't necessarily bother me, I can certainly understand it being something that some readers would just want to avoid altogether. And really, I can't say they're "wrong" and I'm "right." It's going to boil down to what individual readers can roll with.
Still, it's a brave debut, gutsy in a lot of ways. It's not an easy book, and Rock makes her characters ask and answer a lot of tough questions. It's not a perfect read, but hell - it made Wendy cry. That counts for a lot in my book.
Final Grade = B-
Note: It appears that print editions are only available through Harlequin. Digital editions are available through a variety of online retail outlets. Someone correct me if I'm wrong.....