A few weeks ago, I started thinking about Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. I chalked it up to my self-control, which crumbles under the doldrums of summer—I could no longer resist the siren call of romance novels. This book fit the bill—I knew it was good, having already read it, and it was currently sitting in my library branch. After I practiced a little delayed gratification and wrote some tests for summer school, I bee-lined to the Hs and nabbed it off the shelf. 

I’m going to be completely frank with you: while good romance novels hook me with fleshed-out characters and external-to-the-relationship drama, I read romance for the juicy parts. The first pining look, the first kiss, the… well. I am not immune to the propaganda (surprisingly enough), and I am not alone in feeling this way.

Evvie Drake Starts Over begins with Evvie packing her car, getting ready to leave her husband and light out from middle-of-nowhere Maine. She’d been with him for exactly half of her life, and that day was the day she was going to fulfill her fantasies and leave. Unfortunately, that day was also the day her husband passed away from a car accident. She swallows her plans in a mixture of grief and relief.

Then the book jumps a year later to the second inciting incident: Evvie’s best friend is childhood friends with baseball star Dean last-name-that-I-cannot-remember who needs a place away from New York and all the angry fans who can’t understand why he suddenly cannot pitch anymore. Evvie decides to let baseball Dean stay in the little apartment off the back of her house, and you can see where things are going.

It’s not a plot-heavy book. It’s been a year since Evvie’s husband died, she lives in a tiny town and works from home as a transcriber for interviews and research projects, and not too many reporters or nosy locals come banging down the door when word of Dean gets out. Not the makings of a high-stakes conflict.

The romance, however, builds. Evvie and Dean become closer, vowing to not ask each other about their secrets—why Dean whips pinecones at fences at 1 a.m. and why Evvie refuses to use her husband’s life insurance money. They watch sitcoms and drink bourbon and go on a four-hour road trip to Boston to get a pinball machine. And just when things start to heat up, they… don’t. The juicy bits weren’t there—at least, not in the detail that I’m used to getting in romance books. Only a kiss, a teasing line, and then the screen fades to black.

When I closed the cover for a second time, though, I didn’t feel cheated out of the good stuff or curse my mind that lets book details fall through like a sieve or whip out my phone and downgrade my five-star Goodreads rating. Instead, I hugged the book close to my chest and muttered something like, “Aww.” It felt like I was cradling hope, feathers and all.

Slowly, over the course of the novel, Evvie (and the reader) begin to recognize the abuse and gaslighting of her late husband, and Dean comes to terms with a life outside of pitching. They fall in love, yes, but even more than that, Evvie begins to learn how to heal.

Evvie Drake Starts Over showed, in its quiet and unassuming way, that recovery happens in many forms and with funny timing. Evvie gets therapy, yes, but it takes her more than a year to even admit her issues to the people around her. She also breaks household objects and confides in her best friend’s girlfriend rather than in him. She falls in love, yes, but she also learns that she can’t fix Dean. This novel isn’t a romantic tour-de-force but just this woman, Evvie, trying to fit together the pieces of her life into something greater than what they made before.

I still wouldn’t have minded a little more detail, though.


  1. Chad Westra

    You had me at “doldrums” haha. Just one good word from a nice piece with many gems of sentences. The fact that Evvie’s husband also dies seems very “Story of An Hour” Chopin-esque. Thanks for sharing your summer reading with us.

    • Alex Johnson

      It’s certainly a high-stakes kick-off for a relatively low-stakes book! And thank you, I had a fun time crafting this piece.

  2. Olivia Harre

    I had the same “awww” reaction to this book – it’s such a gem, and I very much enjoyed reliving it through this piece!

    • Alex Johnson

      It is SUCH a gem. Happy to share the love. (Linda Holmes—where is the next one??)


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