by Kristi Cook
Released: August 5th, 2014
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Rating: 4.5 stars
Word rating: the tropes are strong with this one
Reviewed by: Blythe
In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.
Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.
But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.
I've made it no secret that my favorite trope of all time is when characters who dislike each other, or have minor issues with one another, are stuck together in a fixed location due to harsh weather or a natural disaster. I've searched time and time again for a contemporary romance wherein the main characters are trapped together during a natural disaster, and when I discovered Magnolia, it felt like I had won the jackpot; the two main characters of Magnolia hate each other, but are forced together during a hurricane and must provide comfort and protection for each other throughout the storm. From this magnificent trope stems sexual tension that is off the charts, relationship development that follows suit, and fantastic swoons. If Magnolia were to be summed up in one sentence, that would be it.
A reverse adaptation of Romeo & Juliet, Magnolia features two neighboring families of a small town in Mississippi; here, the parents are the ones who love each other, and their children the opposite. The parents have been practically planning out their children's wedding since their births, and such plans are met with groans from Jemma and Ryder, the two main characters of the novel. First off, I absolutely loved the references and nods to Shakespeare, and how the parts of the novels are acts, and the chapters, scenes. Although the parts and chapters themselves are not much different from that of which in any other novel, the feel of a Shakespearean play in format added a fun layer to the story. Along with references to Shakespeare, there are wonderfully geeky moments with references to both Star Trek, Gone with the Wind, and Clue.
Jemma's voice is absolutely flawless for this type of story, in that it's sweet and light, despite some darker events to occur later on. Kristi Cook's writing style and direction with Jemma's narrative will either work for you or it won't, but I absolutely loved how at times it read like she was writing in a diary; there are moments in the writing that could be considered Jemma breaking the fourth wall, like when she references the reader as "you," or says that the reader has remembered something mentioned early on in the novel. I can see some readers finding this narrative choice disorienting, but I personally have always been a fan of breaking the fourth wall in TV and film, and I certainly was in here. As for Jemma's character, I absolutely loved her. She's self aware, and knows when she's doing something stupid or acting irrationally, and she understands her motives well. She's fiery but incredibly thoughtful; impulsive and emotional but kind and with the best intentions. It was easy for me to connect with her character, and I did so fairly quickly, and seeing the relationships with her friends flesh out was amazing. It's not all too often that a main character two female best friends are portrayed in YA in a loving manner through healthy relationships, but that's exactly what Kristi Cook accomplishes in Magnolia. Moreover, even with the girls whom Jemma does not consider a best friend, or even much of a friend at all, she's more than willing offer help and kindness during the storm, but also before and after, which added so much more to Jemma's character for me.
The love interest, on the other hand, and Jemma's relationship with him, is virtually flawless. Although it got a bit too sappy and unrealistic for me towards the very end, I absolutely adored everything about this romance. The two confided in each other their fears, trusting each other with their college hopes, worries of their futures, and what went wrong between the two of them so much so that they had begun to hate each other. As Jemma and Ryder have more conversations together, their relationship becomes more and more sincere, and their characters do as well. They're both in vulnerable states given the circumstances, and this allows them to see each other like they hadn't gotten the chance to before. Ryder on his own is, like Jemma, a wonderfully flawed and layered character, and he manages to be a gentleman without being a douche about it. The banter between Jemma and Ryder was amazing, and the ship sailed strong and will continue to do so, despite the overt sappiness and holes in the last few pages.
There is so much more that I love about Magnolia, and it is the novel I've been waiting so long for. With fantastically frustrating sexual tension, an unbelievable grasp of setting and scenery, strong and healthy friendships and familial relationships, authentically portrayed teen issues, and of course, swoons, Magnolia is bound to please fans of Southern romances. In fact, I'd go off on a limb and say it's almost impossible for it not to.