No Matter What

Janice Kay Johnson
October 2012, Series Romance
Harlequin Superromance #1807, $5.50, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373718071

Grade: B-
Sensuality: Warm

Teen pregnancy seems to be a topic that never goes away. Regardless of how society responds to the issue, it stubbornly remains an issue. This novel takes the approach that youthful thinking and rampant hormones don't equal carefully thought through protection. And without the careful planning, accidents can - and do - happen.

As a high school vice-principle Molly Callahn knows teens. So why is it that her perfect fifteen year old daughter Caitlyn has suddenly become an enigma to her? Molly blames it on Trevor Ward, Caitlyn's new crush and a school trouble maker. The simmering anger and sullen nature that make up Trevor's personality are not something Molly wants to become part of Caitlyn's life but she knows if she forbids the girl to see him she will just cement his status as an object of desire. After all, what could be sweeter than forbidden fruit? Still, when Trevor gets into yet another fight, Molly calls in his father. Maybe this time she can impress upon him the importance of straightening his kid out.

Richard Ward is up the creek without a paddle when it comes to children, especially his teenage son. Trevor's mom has raised him for the last twelve years on her own, with Richard seeing him only occasionally. At the start of his senior year she's unable to control his behavior, so she sends Trevor to Richard. Richard is having no better luck. A former all star in basketball and football and former straight A student, Trevor has seemingly overnight become a rebel without a cause. The last thing Richard needs is Ms. Callahan's nasty attitude when he goes to the school and tries to resolve the latest problem.

Molly has to admit that her feelings regarding Trevor and Caitlyn's relationship have led her to handle the meeting with Mr. Ward badly. What she finds in the trash several weeks later doesn't help. Caitlyn is pregnant. Inviting Richard and Trevor over to discuss the issue leads to a nasty blow up between all parties concerned. Realizing that this will not resolve the very real problem the families are facing, Molly and Richard tentatively reach out towards each other. With feelings running so rampant, it is natural that their next several meetings are less than ideal. But slowly, the two form a tentative bond that enables them to become allies rather than adversaries.

As Molly talks to Richard and gets to know him, she sees a man whom she would like in her own life. For his part, Richard has always been attracted to Molly. Now as he gets to know the woman behind the vice principle, he finds himself even more drawn to her. But in a situation already fraught with tension and scandal, can they really afford to fall for each other?

I had an incredibly hard time picking a grade for this novel. On the one hand, the story is extremely well written, with well drawn characters and an interesting plot line. On the other hand, I found the love story portion not only difficult to believe in but frustrating as well. There are so many road blocks to their relationship, I was baffled by how the two leads managed to fall in love.

Compounding the many difficulties Molly and Richard face are their own pasts. Richard had married Trevor's mother straight out of high school; she had been pregnant with Trevor at the time. Molly also had an unplanned pregnancy, though she was older and her husband-to-be had a career. Still, the two are facing grand-parenthood in their mid to late thirties, a time when many today are just starting their families. This complicates their own feelings for the child of their children.

But it also gives them clear perspective on just what Trevor and Caitlyn are facing. They understand the decisions needing to be made because they had once weighed these choices themselves. Something I liked about this novel was that it did not just dismiss abortion as a possible response to the problem. Everyone brings it up at one point or another. The discussion regarding it seemed very mature and informed to me. The possibility that no one would need to know what had happened was pointed out. The fact that it would allow young Caitlyn to spend her sophomore year the way most sophomores do was pointed out. The physical benefits - such as being able to continue dance, which is important to her - as well as the emotional benefit of not having to wonder what happened to her child after she gave it up for adoption were discussed. All choices were presented. Often, the abortion option is whipped off the table in romance so fast you miss it if you blink. Here, it was included and solid information was given regarding this very viable option.

I also liked how the book showed how complicated the issue is. The grandparents were involved in a way they wouldn't be even three years down the road. Given the age of the two parents, there was no way they could not be. It was clear that whatever happened, the decision would impact them as well as Cait and Trevor.

As I said, the characters are well drawn. Molly and Richard felt very real. They had the reeling, sorrow filled, angst ridden, doubt filled emotions that parents have in these situations. They also had to keep working while they worried. That juxtaposition between the problem as their lives went on as "normal" added to the sense of reality of the story. I was also pleased to see that they didn't just brush off what other people would think. More than we like to admit this plays into real life decisions and it was addressed here as well.

That said, I struggled with the relationships and behaviors of the characters in the novel. Cait and Trevor whip-lashed between obnoxious and perfect. I have teens; I know they can be erratic. But bouncing between extreme behaviors the way these two did, especially Trevor, struck me as more than a little unreal. Molly and Richard's love story just didn't work for me. They were in a very intense situation and it is natural for your world to narrow at that point. However, their worlds felt a little too narrow. It was like they had no one in their lives but their kids and each other. That seemed unhealthy.

And I'll admit to just not liking the situation. Had the two fallen in love after the baby decision was made, I could have understood that but they fell in love during. Not only did it feel like they were taking attention away from the problem, it seemed a bit insensitive to their two teens. I can't imagine that Molly and Richard getting together didn't fuel the gossip fires even more, especially since Molly worked at the school the kids went to.

I opened this book having a feeling I already knew how it would end. Not just in terms of the obligatory HEA but in just how the problem pregnancy would be handled. The author choose exactly as I thought she would. That was one more strike against this novel for me - the schmaltzy solution and everyone accepting it felt very romance novel. In reality, this particular resolution is always fraught with difficulties.

Ms. Johnson is an excellent author who writes heartfelt, intelligent romance novels. This one was very readable but I just couldn't buy into the HEA. In the end, the positives slightly outweighed the negatives and I went with the grade I felt reflected that.

-- Maggie Boyd

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