Thank You to Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Colleen Oakley's novel, Close Enough to Touch, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Just a few months before her high school graduation, Jubilee Jenkins received her first kiss, and it nearly killed her. Jubilee has a rare allergy; she is allergic to other people. If she touches another person, she breaks out into a blistering rash, and doctor's fear that it could also send her into anaphylactic shock leading to death.
After her brush with death, she becomes a recluse. Soon, her mother moves to another state, allowing Jubilee to stay in their home and mailing her monthly support checks. Jubilee takes college courses online and has all of her shopping delivered, so that she never has a need to leave the safety of her home.
Fast forward nine years; Jubilee gets a phone call that her mother has died. The house has been paid off and the deed is transferred to Jubilee's name, however without the monthly checks, Jubilee must venture out of her home and find a job. She runs into a former classmate, who recommends her for a job at the local library. One night, on her bike ride home from work, Jubilee notices a little boy drowning in a river, and without thinking of her own safety, she rescues him. The little boy, Ajah and his father, Eric, befriend Jubilee and she begins to realize the impact of human connection, something that she had closed-off for so many years.
LIKE- Close Enough to Touch is a beautiful and imaginative story. Oakley has a keen sense of empathy and is able to create characters with deep emotional lives. I didn't realize until I had finished the story, that an allergy to humans doesn't exist, at least not in the way that Jubilee experiences her affliction. This is where I felt Oakley brought her story-world to life, giving Jubilee a substantial fear in her life threatening situation, and also inflicting her with abandonment issues. Jubilee's stakes are high. Since she cannot allow people to come near her, she creates what she thinks is a good life, filled with her books and communicating online with her college courses. She's not simply sitting in her home, depressed, or at least she doesn't realize that she might be depressed, because in her eyes, she has purpose and fulfillment. It's not until she is forced out of her home, that she realizes that her life can be bigger, that she can dare to dream bigger.
This scenario rattled me on a personal level. Although I don't have an allergy to people and I've never spent years without leaving my home, I do get into ruts, where I stay inside. Currently this is happening due to our relocation to Portland. I feel somewhat unsafe in my downtown neighborhood, so I rarely leave our apartment building. I have groceries delivered, and unless I'm going out with my husband, I generally stay inside. On this small level, I could understand Jubilee's anxiety and wanting to stay in her comfort zone. It made me realize that I should try harder to do things outside of that comfort zone.
With the addition of Eric and Ajah, Oakley has brought together an unlikely trio. Eric is recently divorced and desperate to reconnect with his teenage daughter. Eric is a bit awkward and has a tendency to be attracted to unavailable women. He has adopted his best friend's son, Ajah, who is a bright, inquisitive kid, but having trouble coping with his parent's death. In his mourning, Ajah becomes fixated on the X-Men comics and with the idea that he might have super powers. The growing romance between Eric and Jubilee is beautiful and complicated. It's filled with devastating blows, cringe-worthy missteps, and moments that will make your heart explode with the warm fuzzies. It's also really sexy. This isn't at all erotica, but Close Enough to Touch, has some very erotic scenes.
DISLIKE- What about Michael, a man that enters Jubilee's life at the very end of the story. Michael seems like a really great guy, who loves Jubilee, but he gets screwed over. I wish the little bit about Michael at the end had been left out, it cast a shadow over the last few pages of the story, which I otherwise loved.
RECOMMEND- Yes! Close Enough to Touch is a beautiful, affecting story with memorable characters. I enjoyed it so much, that I immediately purchased Oakley's first novel, Before I Go. I needed more Oakley!