Lessons Learned by Sydney Logan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the blurb:
English teacher Sarah Bray never thought she’d return to Sycamore Falls, but a traumatic event at her inner-city school leaves her desperate for the sanctuary of home. By returning to her roots, an older and wiser Sarah hopes to deal with the demons of her present and confront the ghosts of her past.
She discovers a kindred spirit in Lucas Miller, a teacher from New York with demons of his own. They quickly become friends – bonding through Lucas’s culture shock and their mutual desire to build new lives. When they open their wounded hearts to each other, their friendship effortlessly evolves into romance.
Their love is put to the test when Matt, the quarterback of the football team, shares his deepest secret with Sarah. When the conservative community finds out, Sarah and Lucas – along with the town of Sycamore Falls – are schooled in the lessons of acceptance, tolerance, and love.
Small towns are nice. Everybody knows everybody, and people will smile at you even if you're new to town and they don't know you yet. Everyone is always willing to lend a helping hand. Small towns have a strong sense of community.
Small towns can be stifling. Traditions and conservative beliefs can make things difficult for those who are different, and those difficulties can become dangerous and sometimes have violent results.
There are lessons to be learned. Lessons that loving someone and supporting them doesn't mean you have to always agree with their lifestyles and their views. Lessons that sexuality should not be the deciding factor of whether a person is worthy of love and support. Lessons that standing up for the weak and persecuted is the right thing to do.
Sarah Bray, High School Teacher, returns to Sycamore Falls, her hometown, after a tragic event at the HS in Memphis where she was teaching. She's grappling with guilt,depression and panic attacks, hoping that her new teaching job in her small hometown will bring her the peace she's been looking for, and give her the strength to confront the ghosts from her past.
Lucas Miller, also a HS teacher, is a newcomer to town, running from a false accusation and hoping to make a new life in a small town in the Appalachian Mountains. A kindred spirit, he and Sarah quickly become fast friends and slowly begin a romance. He's one swoon-worthy male specimen, sweet, caring, solid and very, very lovable.
Small towns have demons of their own. Confronted with bigotry, hatred and derision, one of their students opens up to Sarah about a huge secret he's been keeping. As Sarah and Lucas struggle to help their student, they realize that this small town is perhaps not the right place for them after all.
Sydney Logan skillfully weaves a rich tapestry with her debut novel, combining a sweet romance with real social issues and a beautiful landscape set in a small mountain town. She has a unique ability to write the romance in a way that doesn't feel contrived or forced, by simply letting two people with demons in their past fall effortlessly in love, while presenting them with situations that test them both.
The drama in the story didn't feel unrealistic - I've spent enough time in small, southern towns to know that being different is frowned upon, whether it be skin color or origin or sexuality. Bigotry and prejudice exist, even in the 21st century, and the actions of the people in this story are realistically and accurately portrayed.
From the get-go, I was invested in the characters. The opening pages of the book are a flashback to the tragedy Sarah lives through in Memphis, and it literally opens with a bang. The reader is immediately captured (my mouth was hanging open in shock), and feels compelled to continue reading to find out what happens next.
The book made me swoon, laugh, cry and ball my fists in anger. I fell in love with the two main characters, I cried for Matt and his mother, I smiled at Aubrey's not so subtle match making, and I raged at the prejudice and hate that Matt had to live through.
While I don't share the beliefs of some of the more traditional people in this book, and while I don't believe that homosexuality is a choice and thus a sin, I do share the message of the book. That message is tolerance - live and let live. Love someone for who they are, not for what they do in the bedroom. It's possible, when one is tolerant, to see beyond what we disagree on, and see a person who's worthy of love and support.
Excellent debut, Sydney. I look forward to seeing more from you.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.
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