Ainsley O’Leary is so ready to get married—she’s even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn’t anticipate is being blindsided by a breakup he chronicles in a blog…which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her older half sister, Kate, who’s struggling with a sudden loss of her own.
Kate’s always been the poised, self-assured sister, but becoming a newlywed—and a widow—in the space of four months overwhelms her. Though the sisters were never close, she starts to confide in Ainsley, especially when she learns her late husband was keeping a secret from her.
Despite the murky blended-family dynamic that’s always separated them, Ainsley’s and Kate’s heartaches bind their summer together when they come to terms with the inevitable imperfection of relationships and family—and the possibility of one day finding love again.
I finished reading this book over a week ago and it definitely needed to sit for a bit before I could write a coherent review that wasn’t just “Why do you make me feel so many emotions? WHY?!” I mean, Kristan Higgins always makes me feel all of the emotions, but usually those emotions are tears of laughter. This book was…different. In a wonderfully good way, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about Kristan’s decision to switch from third-person contemporary romances to first-person novels that are more focused on the relationships between women than the men they are dating, but On Second Thought entirely won me over. It contains everything that I normally love about her novels, but amplified by, like, a thousand.
On Second Thought contains everything that I normally love about her novels, but amplified by, like, a thousand.
On Second Thought is set in the same town as If You Only Knew, and follows a similar premise and format, in that it’s told from the perspectives of two sisters whose lives are currently in turmoil. And as with the first book in this sort-of-series of tangentially connected books, the main focus of the story is the two women trying to recover and remake their lives, and relying on each other in the process. Ainsley and Kate weren’t particularly close before the start of the novel—due to their age gap and the fact that Ainsley has always felt like the black sheep of the family as she was the product of their father’s affair—but this all changes when her long-term relationship collapses and Kate’s husband unexpectedly dies.
There is romance in this novel—a healthy dose of it, to be honest—but I think I would describe On Second Thought as an empowering novel about sisterhood. It made me thankful for my female friends who have become like sisters over the last couple of years of life—the kind of people I can call up when my toddler is driving me insane, and know that they’ll come over and drink tea with me, or entertain my son so that I can go to the supermarket to get half an hour of peace and quiet. Female friendships are so important, whether they’re between blood sisters or half-sisters or just friends. This has always been a theme in Kristan’s novels (I adored the family in the Blue Heron novels) but I don’t think it’s ever been explored in the kind of depth we get in On Second Thought. Even if Kate is nearing forty and she and Ainsley don’t have a lot in common, there’s still a chance for them to cling to each other during their time of crisis and finally become friends. There’s even a chance for Ainsley and her step-mother, and Kate and her mother-in-law. It feels fitting to review a novel like this on International Women’s Day. Women are awesome, and this book shows just what we can achieve when we unite.
I think I would describe On Second Thought as an empowering novel about sisterhood. It made me thankful for my female friends who have become like sisters over the last couple of years of life.
In spite of all the awesome empowering friendships in this novel, my heart did break a lot. Namely for Kate, who has barely got time to got used to being married before her husband dies, and upon discovering that he maybe wasn’t entirely over his ex-wife, begins to reconsider whether they were actually ever in love. She struggles to grieve because she’s not sure if her husband deserves to be grieved, and is now second-guessing everything about their relationship. But also, since she was single for so long before she met her husband, she finds it surprisingly easy to just get on with her life, to return to work, to make new friends—but then feels guilty that she isn’t spending more time wallowing and lamenting. She isn’t sure what her relationship is with her husband’s family any longer, since she was only part of it for four months. Or if she should remain in the big, empty house that never really felt like home. She discovers that there aren’t any rules for grief, but this doesn’t exactly help her figure out how to move on with her life.
Ainsley’s grief is more tied up in anger, as her boyfriend of ten years dumps her to “find herself” right when she thinks he’s about to propose. Honestly, her boyfriend is a self-centred drama-king, and everyone else in the book sees this long before Ainsley. His treatment of her doesn’t discount that she’s been happy and in love for years, but she needs to figure out who she is outside of being Eric’s girlfriend. She’s built her entire life around him, putting her career in hold in order to support his, becoming entirely financially dependent on him. When they break up, she discovers she has no claim to their house, and that he’s wiped out their bank account. Her life collapses in an entirely different way from Kate’s, but it implodes all the same. There are some fantastic scenes where she and Kate sort of get revenge on Eric, that cause them to bond during the chaos. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done in Ainsley’s position—like her, I married the first guy I dated in college, and I’ve been with him for almost eight years. I haven’t had a paid job since 2011, and I have a boatload of student loan debt that I’ve been ignoring while I raise our child. If I had to set out in the world on my own, I would be just as lost as Ainsley. She felt beautifully flawed and real.
In spite of all the awesome empowering friendships in this novel, my heart did break a lot.
I’ve totally neglected to mention the romance in this novel, which is entirely unlike me. I kind of saw Ainsley’s romance coming, and I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, since the guy in question wasn’t the more intriguing or endearing to begin with. But I loved their relationship all the same, maybe because he wasn’t your conventional romantic hero. He was sweet and caring and incredibly down to earth (especially in contrast to Eric), even if he was very blunt at times. He had his own baggage, which is maybe why he was able to be so understanding of Ainsley’s situation.
Writing a romance for a character who has just lost their husband is incredibly tricky, but Kristan handled it perfectly. We don’t actually see much of the evolution of Kate’s relationship, and I was okay with that—it felt appropriate to give her some distance while she figures out whether she’s ready for another relationship. I appreciate that the guy Kate ended up with was entirely unlike her husband, and that their relationship looked entirely different as well. Every relationship is different, and you can’t just replace one partner with another and expect things to be the same. In Kate’s case, I think she needed something entirely different in order to feel okay about dating again.
I’ve written too much, as usual. I always do this with Kristan’s novels. I just love them so much! If you’re also a fan of unconventional romances that pull at your heart-strings, female friendships that make you want to call up your BFFs and tell them how much you love them, and comedic scenes that have you laughing so much that you wake up your sleeping toddler, then you need to read this book.