School shootings in America are abhorrent and awful and they’ve also affected a huge number of people in ways that our society still doesn’t quite seem ready to reckon with. But Roni Loren is “hunting big game” as Jen and Sarah would say (see Fated Mates, season two). Her The Ones Who Got Away series is taking a good look at how survivors of a particularly violent school shooting (on prom night!) has affected and impacted the survivors years later. Our four women main characters reunite following filming for a documentary about the Long Acre High shooting. Their friendship rekindles and that aspect of this series is one of the best. So let’s get into it. (And full disclosure, I received an ARC of my favorite in the series, The One for You.)
As I’ve mentioned, one of my favorite parts of this series is the friendship between these incredible women, so let’s talk about that first. In The Ones Who Got Away, Liv Arias returns to Long Acre for the documentary and reconnects with both Flynn, her love interest then and again, and Kincaid, Rebecca, and Taryn. The women met in a survivor’s group and connected really well, helping one another heal through the aftermath of the tragedy. The women wrote a letter that they put into a time capsule that they open now, seeing one another again for the first time in years. The letters for many of the women expose that the life they have in the present isn’t necessarily the life they saw for themselves years ago. In the first book, Liv, with the support of her friends, is able to take steps toward realizing her dreams of being a photographer and not trapped in a corporate job. She also gets to take steps toward Flynn. *insert winking face here*
If the first book is about the women rekindling their friendships, it is clear that their friendship is clearly established in the remaining three books in the series. But for sure, the penultimate moment for me and the women is a scene in The One for You that I refuse to spoil.
Each of these books, in addition to looking so much at the friendship aspect, looks a lot at survivor’s guilt. Nearly every character has some lingering guilt related to Long Acre, with the exception of Rebecca’s love interest, Wes, who is the only main character not associated with the past, and Kincaid doesn’t seem to because she doesn’t remember much of what happened that night.
Rachel has harbored a secret about Long Acre for a long time, but she’s fine, just fine, as she pursues her goal of becoming partner at her dad’s law firm. Breaking down the walls of duty and guilt around her is no easy task, but when Wes saves her from a mugging and Rebecca adopts the dog who assisted her, those walls do start to crumble. The One You Can’t Forget takes a good look at duty and obligation and how to create the life you want. It also looks a lot at perception versus truth and how holding on to guilt doesn’t really help anyone, least of all yourself.
Taryn has let a little survivor’s guilt and the determination to make things right for the sake of her sister who was one of the casualties run her life. She’s a professor of psychology and her entire focus is on figuring out the warning signs related to school shooters and intervention program design to prevent future tragedies. Unfortunately, she’s forgotten that she actually needs to take care of herself as well. Oddly enough, the person who keeps stepping up to help her is Shaw Miller, the brother of one of the shooters, who has legally changed his name to Lucas in the hopes of being able to live his life under the radar. Shaw’s guilt is immense and unwarranted and one of the things I loved about The One You Fight For is how unfair the public can be toward the loved ones of the really awful people who do these things. It’s so tempting to place blame on someone, anyone, in the aftermath of tragedies, but it’s not always fair. I really liked that aspect of this particular installment.
But, if you ask me, the best part of the entire series is Kincaid. She is without question my favorite character from this series and one of my favorites of all time. She is fun and beautiful and the life of the party. She is also convinced that she is too much and is only good in small doses, at least when it comes to romantic love. Throughout the series though, we see Kincaid as who she is, an absolute gem of a person, who cares and listens, and loves deeply, and the persona she puts on of happy-go-lucky and fun-loving without a care in the world. When we’re finally in her head in The One for You, we get to learn so much more about her and see a lot of the negative self-talk running through her head at any given moment. And it’s hard sometimes to read that, but it also makes this book so real and incredible.
Her former best friend, Ashton, comes back into her life and he realizes how badly he messed up when he walked away from Long Acre without looking back all those years ago. Kincaid is a wonderful person and he’s always known that, but it sucks when the person you want doesn’t want you. This isn’t a nice guy getting mad about being friend zoned though, it’s complicated and layered and the backstory is so incredibly important. And the eventual HEA is absolutely worth all the struggle to get there.
The One for You was absolutely my favorite in the series and I’m so excited for all of you to read it when it releases at the end of the month. Thank you, so much, to Sourcebooks and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this one early. And, in the meantime, if you haven’t started the series yet, it is on sale to celebrate the upcoming release! If you have read it, let me know which is your favorite book and character in the comments below.