***I received a copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours for promotional purposes in exchange for an honest review.***
Come Back to Me by Mila Gray
Published: December 8th, 2015 by Simon Pulse
Genres: New adult, contemporary romance
Trigger Warnings: depictions of war, death, some consensual sexual content
Pages: 373 pgs.
In this heart-wrenching tale of love and loss, a young Marine and his best friend’s sister plunge into a forbidden love affair while he’s home on leave.
When a Marine Chaplain knocks on her door, Jessa’s heart breaks—someone she loves is dead. Killed in action, but is it Riley or Kit? Her brother or her boyfriend…
Three months earlier, Marine Kit Ryan finds himself back home on leave and dangerously drawn to his best friend Riley’s sister, Jessa—the one girl he can’t have. Exhausted from fighting his feelings, Kit finally gives in, and Jessa isn’t strong enough to resist diving headfirst into a passionate relationship.
But what was just supposed to be a summer romance develops into something far greater than either of them expected. Jessa’s finally found the man of her dreams and Kit’s finally discovered there’s someone he’d sacrifice everything for.
When it’s time for Kit to redeploy, neither one is ready to say goodbye. Jessa vows to wait for him and Kit promises to come home to her. No matter what.
But as Jessa stands waiting for the Marine Chaplain to break her heart, she can’t help but feel that Kit has broken his promise…
Riley or Kit? Kit or Riley? Her brother or her boyfriend? Who’s coming home to her?
Mila Gray is the pen name for Sarah Alderson, author of Hunting Lila, Losing Lila, The Sound, Fated and Out of Control.
Originally from London she has lived in Bali for the last four years with her husband and daughter.
As well as writing young adult fiction under the name Sarah Alderson and adult fiction under the name Mila Gray, she also writes screenplays.
As the daughter of a Naval officer, the looming danger of losing your loved one while they’re on deployment is ever present. They’re thousands of miles away with little to no means of communication with you back home, leaving you to constantly wonder about their safety. However, couple that steady anxiety with the knowledge that your partner isn’t necessarily a welcome visitor to your house and that your brother is also deployed with your partner, and there’s a surefire recipe for disaster. Or, really, the average experience of a military family member.
It’s this exact situation in which Jessa finds herself in Mila Gray’s contemporary romance, Come Back To Me. Both her brother, Riley, and his best friend, Kit, are Marines set to be deployed in Afghanistan to guard a military compound. However, what Jessa’s family doesn’t know is that she and Kit have been secretly dating for the few months prior to the latter’s deployment. Jessa’s father doesn’t necessarily approve — or even acknowledge — of Kit’s existence, but she throws all caution to the wind to follow her heart anyway. However, she might have been a little bit loose with that decision, especially when the Marine chaplain comes home bearing the worst kind of news; either way, she loses a loved one and it’s not good for her mind or soul.
The thing from Come Back to Me that deserves the most praise is the realistic depiction of deployment. As someone who lived through it multiple times with my own father (and now with my non-military partner, who’s on a plane to Sri Lanka as I write this), I’ve noticed that one of the things often portrayed incorrectly in books like these is the lack of communication and ensuing misunderstandings that can result in serious issues in the relationship. Jessa and Kit definitely experience these problems in the early days of his deployment, which plays a huge role in how they communicate later on. Having not had a partner go through a deployment before, Jessa experiences that turmoil for the first time and, true to form, ultimately becomes upset and disappointed, as opposed to putting on a sunshiny face and thinking everything’s a-ok, as I see from time to time in military romance novels. I love that Gray incorporated the mental anguish that military family members — especially partners — go through when the uncertainty starts to settle in.
Additionally, I’m pleased with the way that Gray portrayed mental illness with the character who comes home prematurely from overseas after the events in Afghanistan. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not something that should be toyed with lightly, and the way the characters around the affected character treats him echoes the real-life struggle of the disconnect one has with the world after their traumatic incident. The character is obviously deeply affected and the range of responses from those around him — deep concern, disbelief of the trauma, anger — demonstrate how hard it is for someone with PTSD to assimilate back into regular society.
What I thought needed work fell within how quickly and passionately Kit and Jessa came to be as a couple. They were together for about three months or so before Kit left for deployment. While I kind of get the sense of urgency within Kit to have some sort of motivation to come home safely, it still doesn’t fully ring as realistic for me. Before he leaves for Afghanistan, he has a whole bedroom set up in his father’s house for Jessa to come to whenever she’s feeling sad? After only dating for three months? Before they became a couple, we’re told that these two only really interacted if necessary due to Kit’s close friendship with Jessa’s older brother, Riley. To all of a sudden go from 0 to 100 once the opportunity presents itself doesn’t sit well with me in terms of telling a realistic romance. Also, I found myself grow increasingly frustrated with the deliberate postponement of getting to the real reason why Jessa and Riley’s father disapproves of Kit so much. We’re given hand-wavey reasons like childhood debauchery, but the vitriol Jessa’s father has for Kit has to come from more than just kids setting off firecrackers. We’re not told the real reason until the very end and at that point, it felt like, “That’s it? That’s the reason? It’s not even Kit’s fault?” The big reveal just ultimately fell flat.
While it’s not often that I find myself gravitating towards books depicting military relationships, Come Back to Me is definitely a book that has me wondering what’s next in store for these characters during future deployments. The first cut is always the deepest, as they say, and there’s so much more we can see Jessa develop through as a young woman experiencing these things for the first time. I was glad to see a proper representation of the strife a military partner goes through while their loved one is away, and how the realities of PTSD can make life seem more like a horror movie. And, let’s be real, this is definitely better than Dear John.
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