If You Stay by Barbara Meyers

After so many years away, Joy Laurence is finally returning home to face the parents who turned their back on her. The journey to forgiveness is long and arduous, but there might just be love waiting at the end of the road.

What’s it About? 

A runaway daughter. An unforgiving father. A reluctant artist.

At 18, Joy Laurence took off with the local bad boy who left her widowed, broke and pregnant. Back then her formidable minister father hung up on her when she called home. Now that she’s back, he slams the door in her face. But for her adult daughter’s sake, she is determined to make peace with her family.

Although romance isn’t even on her radar, Joy can’t resist troubled and talented Granger Sullivan’s rough edges and skilled hands. And in his rebellious teenage daughter she sees her own reflection.

Joy’s excitement dies when reconnecting with her past results not only in broken hearts, but broken lives. Including hers.
She could admit defeat and walk away a second time.

But if she stays, can she find a way to reconcile with her loved ones and build the life she wants?

First Impressions

This is the third installment in the Red Bud, Iowa series and surprisingly the entire novel takes place outside of the small Iowa town we’ve come to know so well. Joy Laurence, who is the mother of Devonny from the first book in the series, is returning home to face the past she ran away from years ago. One parent welcomes her back with open arms, but the other continues to hold a grudge for what he deemed an unforgivable mistake made by Joy when she left home. What started off as a battle of wills between daughter and parents has now evolved into one of wife versus husband, as Joy’s mother struggles to forgive her husband for all of the years lost of getting to know their daughter and granddaughter. Joy never could have guessed that by mending ties with her mother it would result in frayed ties between husband and wife. Would it have been better if she’d stayed away?

Even though she’s gone back home with the primary goal of reconciling with her parents, Joy unexpectedly finds a connection, both emotionally and physically, with gruff artist Granger, who just so happened to have a longstanding crush on her when they were young. As they start to dance around their feelings for each other, Joy is also struck by the tenacity of Granger’s daughter who reminds her so much of herself when she was also a rebellious teen. Witnessing the disagreements and verbal sparring between Granger and his daughter makes Joy conjure up memories of similar spats with her own father, and worries if Granger might be on the same road to an irreparable rift with his child. While it was certainly fun getting to know the characters of this new small town, full of their own personalities and complex histories, I can’t help but admit I did miss the friends we’d made back in Red Bud. I tried to think if there was any way the small Iowa town could have been further incorporated into this third story, but upon reflection it made sense that the only way Joy could have confronted her past was by going home.

A Tale of Romance

As Joy tries to navigate the complex relationship with her parents, she also starts to fall for her somewhat surly landlord, Granger. He may appear standoffish on the surface, but beneath this impassive exterior lies a talented artist who is insightfully observant of the world around him. The evolving relationship between Granger and Joy was certainly enjoyable, especially seeing as Granger’s childhood crush has finally come to fruition as an adult, but their romance sort of played second fiddle to the bulk of the other drama going on. Their scenes together were oftentimes a reprieve from the intensity of the book as a whole, providing a seamless chemistry and lightness of fluttering butterflies in the stomach at the start of any new love affair. Whereas we really couldn’t tell how or if other relationships might be resolved, the attraction between Granger and Joy was something we could rely on.

Resolving the Past and the Present

Every book in this series has provided us with an emotional exploration of various relationships, and this third novel continues that theme as we dive deep into the complexities of family dynamics, marriages, teenage hormones, and the intricacies which can surround father/daughter relationships. The irony was not lost on the fact that Joy’s father, Art, who is the minister of this small town, could often guide the members of his flock through their own familial issues, but when it came to those within his own household he struggles to move forward on the path towards forgiveness. Not only to forgive the daughter who he feels brought shame upon their family, but also to forgive himself for the grave mistake of turning his back on her when she tried to reconnect.

We ultimately come to learn that the animosity he’d always felt towards Joy stemmed from the fear of almost losing his wife, Marcy, through her difficult pregnancy with Joy. She’s always represented the thing that threatened to take the love of his life away from him. When she finally makes a reappearance in their lives, Art’s inability to move on from the past threatens the loss of his wife anyway as she struggles with the knowledge that he prevented years of connection with their daughter and granddaughter. Considering that Joy’s pregnancy with Devonny was such a large component of the rift she faced with her parents, I admittedly would have liked to see Devonny incorporated more into the story of this novel. While we do get a few phone call conversations here and there, as well as a final appearance at the conclusion of the book, I think she could have had a more prominent role here overall. That being said, it’s also understandable that Joy would have had to face her past primarily on her own, rather than relying on Devonny to have a hand in resolving any issues for her.

Similar to the complexities around Joy resolving the tenuous connection with her own parents, it was interesting to see some of the same themes reflected in how Granger and his own daughter, Cassie, needed to confront and mend their own relationship. In both instances, it wasn’t as though the presence of a third character could come in and easily resolve everything with a simple conversation. Joy needed to speak with her parents on her own terms without relying on Devonny to help smooth things over, just like Joy’s parents needed to face each other head on, same as Granger and Cassie needed to do. Particular events and conversations which wove in between all of these characters certainly influenced how they chose to re-evaluate their own situation, but at the end of the day each set of relationships had to traverse their own unique path to ultimate forgiveness.

*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Red Bud, Iowa book 3. 

Final Impressions: This book is an exploration of faith, love and forgiveness. Of all the books in the series so far this felt like the most emotionally “heavy” one of the bunch, as there were a multitude of shaky relationships at play with deep-rooted issues at the heart of them. I often found myself questioning if Joy would ever find absolution with her father, if her parent’s relationship could ever be saved considering so many years of heartbreak, and whether Granger would be able to find a way to reconnect with his daughter. Throughout it all we see love start to blossom between Granger and Joy, and I do wish we could have seen their connection featured a bit more prominently. There were so many different complex relationships to keep track of, and it seemed theirs was sometimes pushed to the side to introduce the others. There was even an unexpected traumatic twist towards the end of the book involving Granger and Joy’s union that I really didn’t see coming, but it felt relatively glossed over in order to ensure the other loose ends of the novel were tied up.

Smut Level: Granger finally has the source of his longstanding crush in his arms, and after so many years of waiting he’s more than ready to show Joy how much he’s always wanted her.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. 289 Pages

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