Author: Colleen Oakley
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: Trade Paperback
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: March 7, 2017
First Line: "At first glance, Jubilee Jenkins is your run-of-the-mill third grader."
Book Description from GoodReads: One time a boy kissed me and I almost died...
And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from.
One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition...
Close Enough to Touch is an evocative, poignant, and heartrending exploration of the power and possibilities of the human heart.
My Rating: 4.5 stars
My Review: This is a story about a young woman named Jubilee Jenkins who has a severe, life-threatening allergy ... to other people. This story has a bit of everything - romance, dysfunctional relationships, serious issues and a hodgepodge of distinct characters set within a poignant story.
Jubilee is a protagonist that I could get behind and I loved that she was a book lover and fellow Library Assistant. She had quirks, issues and faults and you will root for her. But her allergy sets her apart and becomes debilitating to the extent that she becomes agoraphobic. When she's forced to leave her house after years of being a recluse her small world begins to expand. Did it feel a little too easy for her to leave her house after nine years of being agoraphobic? Yes, a little. But by then I wanted her to succeed so badly that I was willing to overlook the relative ease with which she slipped back into the outside world.
Being a mom of an anaphylactic teen myself I also connected with Jubliee and her allergy. Even though Jubilee's allergy to people is fictional, I applaud Oakley for bringing an authenticity to the severity, fear and misunderstanding that often comes with severe allergies. Jubilee's intense fear of having another allergic reaction is palpable to the reader.
As Jubilee's world expands she meets Eric and his son, Aja (easily my favourite character of the bunch). My heart hurt for Aja. He's a sweet, awkward, inquisitive, brilliant boy who has lost his way. He has his father, Eric, by his side whose love for the boy is apparent but Eric is equally lost after his recent divorce. He's a pro at misreading situations and people and his deep need to reconnect with his teenage daughter takes a lot of his energy.
One of my favourite relationships in the book was between Jubilee and Aja. They were kindred spirits whose connection was almost immediate and something that they both needed very much. The book also focuses on the romance between Jubliee and Eric which was sweet, awkward, complicated and touching. How does one have a relationship with the fear that an accidental touch may cause the death of the person you love? There were a few scenes within these various relationships that will tug at readers' heartstrings.
My only issue with the book is the ending which felt rushed with things falling into place a little too easily for the characters. I liked how things turned out but would have liked to get more details and time to digest it.
This is an offbeat romance of an eccentric, introverted protagonist that examines different relationships (romantic; divorced families; contentious relationships with parents) as well as some serious issues (anaphylaxis, agoraphobia, loss and family dysfunction). Oakley's writing is top notch as she approaches these complex issues and relationships with heart and a bit of humour thrown in for balance.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Gallery Books for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.