Guest Review: When Sparks Fly by Kristen Zimmer

When Sparks Fly by Kristen Zimmer
[Contemporary F/F YA/NA romance] released by Bookouture on April 28, 2021

Britton Walsh has never had a home. After a lifetime in the care system, she doesn’t expect she’ll ever find one. But beginning her senior year with new foster parents in a new city, means starting over yet again. Tom and Cate Cahill seem okay. The hitch? Their daughter, Avery.

Beautiful, popular and cool, Avery is everything Britton is not. She’s all Britton could ever ask for in a sister, or even a friend––but having survived without either for so long, Britton knows the way her heart races whenever Avery enters the room can only mean one thing…

But Avery has a secret. Something that is eating away at her and stopping her letting anyone in, least of all Britton. Will Avery’s insistence on punishing herself for a mistake in her past make Britton’s last year of high school, and finding a place to call home, impossible? Can two such different people ever find common ground, friendship, or maybe even something more?

An unforgettable new adult lesbian romance for fans of Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters, Her Name in the Sky by Kelly Quindlen, or Nancy Garden’s classic young adult coming out novel, Annie on My Mind.

New Adult novel: recommended for 17+ due to mature themes and sexual content.

Pre-pandemic I co-hosted my library’s romance book club. For June, which is Pride Month, we asked book club members to read a LGBTQIA+ book of their choosing. I selected two, one of which was The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer. It was a cute friends to lovers lesbian romance that I enjoyed quite a bit. When I heard she was publishing a second book I knew I had to read it hoping it would be as good as the first.

Britton Walsh has never had a family of her own. She’s built up walls, she’s cautious, and she’s not very trusting. When we meet Britton she’s about to begin her senior year of high school, she’s been taken in by a new family, and she’s solidly out of the closet as a lesbian. I liked that this wasn’t a coming out story for her but a coming out of the protective shell she’d created. She’s been both physically and emotionally abused in the past so being welcomed into a loving “normal” family is an unfamiliar feeling to her. I like how we see her slowly begin to trust and accept the love that this family has to give. The catch is the family’s daughter Avery.

Avery Cahill is a cheerleader, popular, outgoing, smart, but she is carrying a heavy burden. Avery could have been a stereotypical “mean girl” but she’s not. She’s also a daddy’s girl and could have easily come across as a spoiled brat but she’s not that either. There’s a depth to her character and part of that depth is the hurt she feels for something that’s happened in her past for which she takes silent responsibility.

A review of this book would be remiss if it didn’t mention Avery’s parents. The Cahills are loving parents though also suffering a loss that, at least in the beginning, none of them mention. But that hurt does not prevent them from opening their home to Britton and, for the first time in her life, exposing her to what a true family can be like. They include her in family meetings, in family decisions, and they make sure Britton knows that she can be her true self with them.

As for what I thought of the book? I could be subtle about it but I’m not going to do that. I LOVED this book. I’ve recommended it on social media, talked about it with library staff, and think it’s perfect for teens. There are so many things to love here. First Britton and how we see her slowly open up to new friends and begin to trust in the Cahill family. Then there’s Avery who is so much more than “popular girl”. We get to see her begin to develop too…much of it due to Britton. I’ll get to that in a minute. The Cahill parents also are an integral part of this book and how their love for each other and for their daughter helps Britton see that she can begin to trust again. As I’ve mentioned Avery is suffering and has taken the blame for something that has happened. It’s not until Britton comes along that she can begin to heal because Britton “sees” Avery. She recognizes the pain that Avery carries even if, at first, she doesn’t know why. And Avery “sees” Britton and doesn’t let Britton get away with shutting herself off even if that’s her first instinct. The relationship that slowly develops between the two is done beautifully. It is a true friends-to-lovers story and the way these two care for and about each other is what makes this book so enjoyable.

The only issue I can see with this book, and one some Amazon reviewers mention, is determining the audience for the book. The girls are seniors in high school and 18 years old, so this is a young adult book, isn’t it? But there is…gasp…s-e-x between Britton and Avery so maybe it’s a new adult book instead because…s-e-x. I’m in the camp that thinks this is a young adult novel and needs to be read by young adults and not just those that are LGBTQIA+ but also those that are dealing with a loss, those that want to see what a loving family can be, and yes, for those kids that are questioning their sexuality because, in Britton, we see a girl fully accepting of the fact that she’s gay and in Avery we see a girl who feels some guilt about her sexuality and thus doesn’t feel she can come out of the closet. The fact that there’s a little bit of sex should not be the reason a teen is kept from reading this book.

If you like sweet love stories, loving relationships, friends-to-lovers stories, and stories of two wounded people finding each other and healing together then this is the book for you. I would love to read a sequel to this book but if there’s not one I’ll still read whatever is next from the author Kristen Zimmer. Because I can’t stop talking about this book and recommending it I’m giving it a solid…

Grade: A

You can buy a copy here.

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