January 2009, Contemporary Romance
St. Martin's Press, $7.99, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312939515
The cover and title of Susan Donovan’s new book The Girl Most Like To... promise a light comedy. Although there are some light moments in the book, it is mostly an angst-filled story featuring parted lovers and a secret child.
Kat Cavanaugh grew up in Persuasion, West Virginia, a small college town where her father Virgil was a professor in the art department and her mother was a homemaker. To outward eyes, they were a normal family but in reality, Virgil beat Kat’s mother – sometimes to the point of leaving her bedridden. However, BettyAnn Cavanaugh never told anyone and wouldn’t let Kat tell either. When things got too bad, Kat would go to Riley Bohland’s home. Riley and Kat were best friends and confidants ever since they were in grade school.
As time went on, Kat and Riley’s feelings toward each other became more and more intense until they became lovers while in high school. Riley’s father, not wanting his son to get tied down, gave him a stern talking to over his relationship with Kat and Riley told her it was over, just as she about to tell him she was pregnant. Kat ran off devastated, then when she told her mother the news, BettyAnn gave her a wad of bills and told her to leave and go to her aunt Rita’s home.
Instead of going to her aunt, Kat started to hitchhike and was picked up by a truck driver, who took her to his sister’s home in Baltimore. Phyllis Turner was an eccentric, but loving woman who became a surrogate mother to Kat and a grandmother to her son Aidan. When Phyllis died, she left Kat a fortune, and Kat decided to go back to Persuasion and take care of some unfinished business.
The Girl Most Like To... has some of the most mind boggling coincidences I’ve ever encountered in a book, and to describe them would be major spoilers. I’ll only say that when I described the plot to a friend of mine, she was goggle-eyed. And yet, oddly enough, while I was reading the book, I was so immersed in the characters and their stories that I accepted it all. It wasn’t till after I closed it that I began to think: “Now wait a minute - what are the chances of that happening?”
Kat and Riley are realistic and very flawed characters, especially Kat. I felt so sorry for her. Almost all the adults in her life who should have loved and taken care of her, let her down. Virgil Cavanaugh in particular was a totally despicable man, and hasn't changed at all. He is cruel and narcissistic and his actions blighted the lives of Kat, BettyAnn, Aiden and Riley. Virgil is not a stock over-the-top evil villain, too cartoonish to be believed. He is a selfish man who thinks only of himself and cares not a whit for anyone else. There are people like him, sad to say.
Riley turns out to be a thoroughly decent man, and he really loved Kat. His anger when he finds out he has a 20 year old son is understandable, and Kat soon regrets her part in the deception. But Riley comes to realize the stress she was under. Aidan has turned out to be a fine young man and he and Riley soon bond.
The best part of the book is how Susan Donovan depicts the love that Kat and Riley had for each other and how that love has never died. These are two people who have been friends practically from kindergarten and then lovers. Yes, they are hurt and it takes them some time to get over it, but they don’t posture or act silly. Their emotions are real and believable.
Some of the secondary characters are a bit cartoony. I never liked Kat’s friend Nola very much, and Riley’s ex-fiancee (now stalker) Carrie was a bit extreme, but they weren’t overly annoying. Even though The Girl Most Likely To... is far from perfect (those coincidences!!!), Riley and Kat are such a great hero and heroine that they made the book something special. If I like the characters, I can forgive a book for some outrageous plotting, and I liked Kat and Riley very, very much.
-- Ellen Micheletti
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