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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

So Tired of Rape Trauma Used as a Plot Device

It's in His Kiss - Jill Shalvis

Jill Shalvis's Lucky Harbor series is like the literary equivalent of comfort food. Sure, it's not that good for you; you probably won't learn anything. No, it's not original: the familiarity is the point. Yes, it's formulaic: it happens to be a formula I generally like. This is the tenth book in the series, but they all stand alone.  The series is roughly organized into sub-trilogies: the first three books were about three sisters opening a bed and breakfast, books four through six were about three female friends who get together for gossip and sinful desserts at the cafe where one of them works, books seven through nine were about three women who own businesses in the same building, and this tenth book kicks off a new trilogy that will presumably feature three guys who are partners in a fishing charter company.

 

One of the things I don't love about the Shalvis formula is that her heroes tend to be emotionally-constipated alpha males who for one reason or another can't bring themselves to face or admit their feelings when they fall for a woman. It's in His Kiss falls into that same vein: Sam's unreliable father has let him down again and again, and he tosses around, "Love you, Sam" so casually that for Sam, the words have lost meaning. He doesn't plan to fall in love, because in his experience, love only leads to disappointment. It's not that I don't feel for the guy, but I'd rather a man be brave and honest about his feelings, and communicate like a grown-up, than that he be burly and tough physically but have (in the immortal words of J.K. Rowling d/b/a Hermione Granger) "the emotional range of a teaspoon."

 

The heroine, Becca, is likeable but very private. She keeps her personal history a secret for reasons I have frankly totally forgotten in the five days since I finished this book. I suspect those reasons, whatever they were, didn't make all that much sense to start with because I remember being annoyed as I read that much of the petty conflict in the story stemmed from bad communication between the characters -- Becca's unnecessary secrecy and Sam's emotional constipation. Becca has spent her whole life being a good girl, supporting her uber-talented little brother's musical career even as his prescription addiction turned him into a jackass. She suffers extreme personal trauma for her brother's benefit, and her family doesn't even really notice. Finally having reached her limit, she flees to Lucky Harbor and starts building a new life for herself, working for Sam's boat charter company. I liked Becca, but I was irritated by her tragic backstory: I think writers sometimes give female protagonists rape trauma just to fill them out as characters and play on readers' sympathy, a trend I find both unoriginal and opportunistic. There are enough people in this world actually suffering from these issues, and I wish writers would be more sensitive before using this very common and very real trauma as a plot device: "Ah, this gal's kind of boring... Hey, I know! Let's have her be recovering from rape, and afraid of small spaces, because I could write some great Claustrophobia Scenes!"

 

These quibbles aside, though, Sam and Becca have good chemistry and Shalvis's writing and dialogue are reliably snappy and fun, and while It's in His Kiss is far from my favorite of the series, it's still a solid entry.