Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Second Chance Romance: The Natural History of Us

Title: The Natural History of Us (The Fine Art of Pretending, #2)
Author: Rachel Harris
Publisher: Spencer Hill Press
Release Date: April 5th, 2016!
Get It: Amazon
*eARC kindly provided by Spencer Hill Press via NetGalley*

From Goodreads...
One class assignment. One second chance at love. The school player is all in. Now he needs to win back the sweet commitment girl who's forever owned his heart. 

Justin Carter has a secret. He's not the total player Fairfield Academy believes him to be. Not really. In fact, he used to be a one-woman guy...and his feelings for her never went away. Too bad he broke her heart three years ago and made sure to ruin any chance she'd ever forgive him. 

Peyton Williams is a liar. She pretends to be whole, counting down the days until graduation and helping her parents at the family ranch. But the truth is, she's done everything she can to get over Justin, and salvation is just around the corner. With graduation one short month away, she'll soon break free from the painful memories and start her life fresh. Of course, she has to get through working with him on one last assignment first. 

For Justin, nothing ever felt as right as being with Peyton, and now that fate's given him a shot at redemption, he's determined to make the most of it. And for Peyton...well, Justin Carter has always been her kryptonite. 

My Review!
Having read almost every single Rachel Harris book to date (I think the only one I’ve yet to read is You’re Still the One?), I’m pretty confident in saying this is her best yet. It’s not perfect, and I had like a pretty minor issue that encompassed the trope of good girl/bad boy. So, before I get into everything, lemme tell you what I mean here. This is a pretty, typical I want to say, start of a YA story. You’ve got Peyton Williams; innocent, shy, quiet, a book nerd who’s never dated or even had a hardcore crush outside of her favorite fictional reads. And then you’ve got Justin Carter; a light bad boy (he’s definitely got the attitude, but that’s about it), who puts on a face for everyone and who has hooked up with a lot of girls [also since hooked up can literally mean anything sexual, I wasn’t even sure WHAT it meant to him until it was outright mentioned], who is cocky and arrogant and who believes he’s got everything going for him. I’ve read so many stories like this that it becomes unoriginal and boring. The issue that ties into this trope is the fact that Justin’s POV seemed over-the-top sometimes, and that Peyton was put on a pedestal above other girls BECAUSE she’s a Commitment type of girl (don’t even get me started on the fucking Casual/Commitment list the guys in this story made, it’s awful), so all of the other girls seemed to be LESS because they wanted to be Diamond Dolls [ugh, is this even real??] or hook up with guys. And that’s not okay. It’s not addressed, which sucks, but I also tried to take it in stride because of the fact that they’re teenagers, and that they’re both still learning about themselves and others. And there’s MAJOR character development here that make both Peyton and Justin more than who they were in the past, and more than the typical good girl/bad boy.

Peyton might be shy and quiet toward guys, because she doesn’t really know how to talk to them (even though one of her bffs is actually a guy??), but she’s bold in other aspects. Still a little shy, and sometimes naive, but bold. Girl’s got some confidence to her, an enlivened attitude because of her illness. GBS (Guillain-Barre Syndrome) almost ruined her life and cost her the spark that draws others in. She’s worked hard to get her life back together, to fight her illness, and she’s done letting fear stop her from everything. She’s done letting her illness take control of her life, and she’s determined to take it back. One of the things I LOVED about Peyton was the fact that she didn’t quit, that she didn’t give up. Though, after Justin breaks her heart freshman year, she’s turned back into a pretty timid person. She saw where the whole ‘fast and furious’ speed she approached life as a freshman took her, and she wants no part in that again. So she hides, behind lies and a relationship that doesn’t give her the rush and passion that Justin did. She starts lying to herself when Justin wants back in her life, and even though he destroyed her heart, it’s still beating. And through talking to him again, and taking back the voice she lost, she begins to face her fears of getting back up on that horse (literally) and conquering them. Justin helps her do that again, stays by her side, challenges her. Through his faith in her, and hers in herself, she begins to find the balance between the old Peyton and the new Peyton. Someone who still wants to live life to the fullest, but one who also appreciates the past, and the steps it took to get her here. Riding horses again and giving the boy she loves a second chance.

Justin, for all his faults, is a good guy. But he doesn’t believe that. He’s been ignored and neglected all his life, ever since his grandparents died. He doesn’t really know how love and relationships are supposed to work. So back when he was 15, he was a cocky bad boy who swore he’d never date a Commitment. But when he falls under Peyton’s magical spell, he begins to believe in something different. But he could never quite get there, and he destroyed his relationship with Peyton because he believed she deserved better than him (that he always has). That’s a type of bullshit I hate dealing with, the self-sacrificing he does because he thinks it’s what SHE wants. But he’s a kid who just doesn’t believe he’s worth anything more than being a damn good baseball player and being able to get a girl off. Peyton had brought so much light and love into his life, when he’d never really had that before, and it takes him 3 long fucking years to realize what a mistake he made (I mean c’mon Justin, SERIOUSLY??). I never said he was smart. But he HAS changed a lot from the guy he was when he was 15, and he wants Peyton to see that so badly. He’s always been a good guy; he’s never played with girls’ hearts. He’s always been upfront about he wanted, and he’s always been respectful toward them. (I’m not forgetting the whole ‘Peyton on a pedestal above other girls’ thing, but it never really came from him). He’s just so damn self-destructive. But he’s so much more than what he was at 15; he’s so much more than what he believes himself to be. He’s a quiet guy, one who writes poetry in secret and who desires a new beginning, away from his father and into a future that he chooses.

Peyton understands him on a level that no one else ever really has, except maybe for his housekeeper (the woman who basically raised him, Rosalyn). And Justin makes Peyton feel alive in a way that she’s never before experienced. He also challenges her and pushes her to face her fears. He’s always known she’s a strong person, one who can do anything if she sets her mind to it. He just gives her the support to DO that. And Peyton makes Justin feel special and loved, something that he’s been deprived of since he was a child and his tender and kindhearted grandparents died, leaving him with a father who never wanted him and a stepmom who hates him. He’s had his little half-brother, Chase, and his housekeeper. But he’s still missing connections and bonds that make living worthwhile. Love without restraint or conditions. Passion. Happiness. With Peyton and her family, he starts to believe that he can be so much more than he’s chosen to be. With them, he starts to finally feel like he belongs somewhere. But something scares them both, and Justin pushes Peyton away in the WORST way. And it takes them a long time to find their way back to each other, but I rooted for them the whole way. I also totally BELIEVED in them, even if they were a bit cheesy at times. But they were young, kids in love, and you can’t help but smile when everything works out okay for them, and when they forgive and forget and make a fresh start. (Though I wish the two of them would’ve talked more about what had happened, because I don’t think they did enough, esp about SPOILER). It WAS great to see the two of them working everything out, and in a very mature way, and I totally wanted that for them from the beginning.

Though, if we’re being honest, the whole thing could have blown over in a few weeks, and they would have had 3 years together. Haha. HOWEVER. Maybe that was needed. Maybe they needed to grow without the other one around. Maybe they needed to learn about trust and commitment and what it means to really make it work in a relationship. Maybe they needed some time to be in a place where both of them could handle the feelings and rush and passion that had caught the two of them in a whirlwind romance freshman year. Maybe they just needed some space. Though, 3 years of it? DAMN. :p The dual timeline/dual POV worked very well here. It was never hard to understand what was happening in the past versus the present. And although it was pretty predictable about what had happened back when they were 15, it never took anything away from the story. I loved seeing both sides of the story; I loved watching Justin and Peyton find their way back to each other. I loved that we got so much of them. I think I was missing what the secondary characters added to the story, though, since they were hardly in it. So they weren’t exactly 3-dimensional. I could have used MORE of them (especially Peyton’s parents!), but it also didn’t really affect my reading experience. I was hooked on Peyton’s and Justin’s romance, and I wanted them to find their happily-ever-after, cheesy as it may have been. :D I honestly think this was Rachel’s best book yet. There was so much character development; SO MUCH. And it had her trademark spark (fun, emotional, heartwarming, swoony, sassy). Also it even had sex positivity, and that was great. *thumbs up* I’ve wanted to read The Natural History of Us for a very long time, and it was well worth the wait!


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