Lilly and her dearest friends Megan, Kate and Sarah flew from New York to Miami on a Thursday night and Lilly’s life changed forever. From behind her second free mimosa a Lilly thumbs through a Cosmopolitan and feels a sudden jolt as classically handsome Patrick enters the frame and touches her shoulder. Tall, fit, dark hair and chocolate eyes. They’re engaged to be married in no time.

Fast forward a few pages and enter Michael, the baby-faced stranger with crinkly blue eyes and a tucked-in Ralph Lauren collared button down. Stuck in an elevator minutes before the wedding, Lilly realizes she’s not sure Patrick is The One.

I love a great romantic comedy. I’ve watched How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days more times than I can count, and read Bridget Jones’ Diary even more. I can’t get enough of the classic tale of relationships gone awry. But the greats have that je ne sais quoi. An element of surprise and great storytelling that keeps us coming back.

As the book jacket says – Lilly never wanted to settle. And neither do I.

Because of You reads like a rough draft of a great idea. Starke created a cast of characters including the classic set of girlfriends – the “natural caretaker type with the more positive attitude,” the “non-nonsense friend….forever on her phone,” and the “free-spirited single friend with the sweetest smile and the biggest heart.” The diverse set of supportive archetypes has the potential to leap off the pages,  but instead lie dormant – the victims of dry descriptions on page 9.

The contradictory feelings and events fail to create a complex character, but do succeed in creating a confusing series of events that had me flipping back and forth to puzzle together what this woman really feels. Lilly begins the book looking forward to her wedding day, but goes back to relay the story of how she and Patrick first met. On page 19 she’s in love with Patrick and introducing her to her parents, and on page 21 he says he loves her, too, in her parents’ kitchen. “Relationships,” she thinks, “have never been this easy before.”

Page 39 brings Michael – the stranger in the elevator – into the fold. Relationships are “hard work” they agree, and Lilly remembers allowed when her fiancé Patrick shocked her (yes, shocked) by saying he was falling in love. Within six months they were engaged.

Relationships are easy or relationships are hard? She’s in love with Patrick or stunned by his declaration? Perhaps the red flag reared it’s ugly head when she – a self-described serial dater – moved so quickly into engagement that one encounter with a stranger on the elevator could make her doubt matrimony. (Don’t worry  she clears up on page 59 that Michael definitely was and definitely was not the reason she broke off the marriage.)

Starke is an award winning children’s author, with her kids book Amy’s Travels in its second edition on six continents – but she may have jumped the shark in publishing Because of You.  The story is intriguing, but the narrative and characters need a makeover.

Skip the novel, and spend the time planning ahead for Valentine’s Day next month – whether you’re celebrating with your fiancé, or a stranger on the elevator.

xx,

Syrah