Can’t Hardly Breathe by Gena Showalter

Can't Hardly Breathe by Gena ShowalterThis book had a tone I wasn’t expecting, and was so much more than I thought it would be. As a small town romance, it hits the right marks. The cost of gossip, the way everyone looks out for Dorothea even when she doesn’t want them to, and the darkness behind the light in the sense of secrets where people think everything is known are all there.

It doesn’t hold back in the slightest, not just with Dorothea, but also with her friends. These are real people facing real things that are far more immediate than the bullying mentioned in the book description, though the impact of that lingers both in the story and in real life.

Dorothea isn’t alone in her shadows, either. Daniel might have been the handsome hero of an army ranger, but he battles demons every bit as dark as those that haunt Dorothea. PTSD, or post-traumatic stress syndrome, is something heroes aren’t supposed to suffer, but of course, they do. Daniel chooses not to care about anything as his way of protecting himself, and those he is willing to love, from future pain.

They are each strong in their own way, but Dorothea takes the prize. She’s determined to rebuild herself while those around her tear her down in the name of helping her. She had goals and dreams she’s finding a way to pursue, and even though her love is rarely returned in any tangible way, she does whatever she can to protect those she loves from harm.

This book is about good people who have suffered horrible things and have to fight not just for themselves, but for each other. It’s powerful, and when it could have had an easy ending, instead, it rips apart in favor of the ending that’s worth the struggle.

This isn’t a story about perfect people. It isn’t even a story about oddball outsider kids who grew up into perfect people. It’s about people often dismissed or misunderstood by those around them finding the one person who can heal their hurts and let them embrace the world they’ve been sheltering from. It’s not easy, it’s not without heartbreak (and tears on the part of this reader), but it shows that the right person is worth fighting for, even when the right person is yourself.

If you prefer your encounters safely behind closed doors, this isn’t the book for you. The sex is described right there in front of everything, but it is both so much more than those scenes and makes those scenes a tangible part of the story. This is especially true for Daniel who had buried his fears in random encounters (all prior to the book starting) without understanding just what a real connection is. Dorothea is not exempt either, though, because her self-esteem issues are such that she doesn’t think anyone will want her.

P.S. I received this book from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review, and honestly, I loved it.

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