Wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate understands the happily-ever-after business, yet somehow she’s still involved in her ex-husband’s life. In fact, Owen’s new wife may—inexplicably—be Jenny’s new best friend. Sensing this, well, relationship isn’t helping her move on, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll be able to bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and hopefully make one of her own.
Her timing couldn’t be more perfect, since Rachel will need her younger sister. Her idyllic marriage has just fallen to pieces in spectacular fashion after she discovers her husband sexting with one of his colleagues. Second chances aren’t in Rachel’s nature, but the desire for an intact family has her rethinking her stance on adultery, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ “perfect” marriage as a shining example, but to protect her sister Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their relationship—and reveal a secret about their family she’s been keeping since childhood.
During this summer of secrets and lies, temptation and revelation, Jenny and Rachel will rely on each other to find the humor in their personal catastrophes, the joy in their triumphs…and the strength to keep hanging on.
I discovered Kristan Higgins at the beginning of 2014 and immediately fell in love with her writing. Since then, I’ve been steadily working my way through her backlist. Earlier this year I realised that I didn’t have many books left to read, and was pleasantly surprised when I heard about If You Only Knew. The only drawback was that the book seemed more like a chick-lit novel than a romance, which is a little bit of a change from Kristan’s usual writing. Early reviews were a bit mixed, but I’m glad I went ahead and read this book. Sure, it’s not a standard romance, but if you like the way that Kristan writes about family relationships, particularly those between siblings, you’re sure to appreciate this book. And let’s not forget her humour. And the dogs! I’m definitely not a dog person and even I find myself becoming attached to the pets in Kristan’s novels.
If You Only Knew focuses on two sisters, and as such, switches between their points of view throughout the book. Personally, I love first person storytelling, but sometimes I feel like I’m in the minority when it comes to this. Sometimes it can be annoying only getting one perspective on a situation, but since this book’s focus is on Jenny and Rachel growing as individuals, and not so much about their romantic entanglements, I think it worked well. I really liked getting inside their heads, and seeing how each sister viewed the other. As can be expected, their views of each other weren’t always correct.
Jenny is pretty much your typical Kristan Higgins heroine.
She has a drama-queen mother, a snarky gay employee, an ex-husband who she’s somehow still best friends with (not to mention his new wife!), and she goes on one fantastically awful blind date. I’m not going to lie, I did initially wonder if this book was going to feel formulaic. I love reading about horrendous blind dates (perhaps because I’ve never been on one?), but Jenny felt like she was ticking too many boxes that had already been ticked in other books. Thankfully, she quickly became her own, wonderfully unique character. I really enjoyed reading about her journey away from Manhattan and her ex’s new family, and learning to let go of her past. She is in no way a perfect character, and sometimes she stuck her nose into Rachel’s business too much or at the wrong times, but that made her all the more real.
I also loved Jenny’s relationship with Leo, the superintendent of her building. To begin with, I thought he was a bit too aloof and alpha-male for my liking, but as his story unfolded it became clear why he was acting like that. Honestly, when Leo’s entire back-story was revealed I found myself crying a little. This definitely isn’t your conventional romance, and it isn’t a light, fluffy read either—it has a lot of hidden deepness to it that I really wasn’t expecting. It pleasantly surprised me.
I found myself relating to Rachel more than Jenny, and not just because we share the same name.
Like Rachel, I love being a stay-at-home mom, and I derive so much pleasure from it. I understood her issues with not getting along with all the other local moms, the pressure to make sure everything your kids do is enriching, organic and Pinterest-worthy, and the struggle to still be you in the midst of all the stresses of parenting. So I ached and got angry alongside her when she uncovered her husband’s affair. I want to think that I would be like Jenny and immediately see through Adam’s lies, but in reality, my mind might be clouded just like Rachel’s was. Wouldn’t I want it all to just be a big misunderstanding, for the sake of my family? Wouldn’t it be easier to sweep everything under the rug and start over again? I might not have always agreed with everything Rachel did, but I understood her reasoning. I don’t think anyone truly knows what they’d do with a cheating partner until they find themselves in that situation.
In the end, Jenny and Rachel both made decisions that I wasn’t expecting. They grew so much over the course of this book, and I was both surprised and proud of them. Their hardships and friendships helped them to be strong enough to break off relationships that weren’t healthy, and take steps that would allow them to move forward with their lives. If You Only Knew wasn’t the book I was expecting it to be—in fact, it was even better. While it’s quite unlike anything Kristan’s written before, it still contains some of the best elements of her romance novels. I definitely shed a tear or two in the final chapter of this book, and I was sad to say goodbye to the sisters I had become so fond of.
Disclaimer: This is a general market novel and includes instances of strong language and sexual innuendo.