ROSIE LOVES JACK by Mel Darbon

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When Jack doesn’t arrive at the cafe on time, Rose knows something is wrong. She races up the hill to their inclusive college and is just in time to share one last hug with Jack before the police take him away. He’s had another outburst, and this time, he’ll need to go to a special facility to help with controlling his anger.

Rose’s dad is happy that Jack has been sent away. He tells Rose to forget him and confiscates all the postcards Jack sends her. But Rose can’t forget Jack. She loves him. And she knows that her dad is being overprotective because she has Down syndrome. Rose is not going to let her dad or her disability keep her away from Jack. She runs away from home, determined to find Jack in his new home in Brighton. But a fierce snowstorm turns her travel plans awry, and Rose will need to rely on her thinking cap and her love for Jack to survive the dangerous journey ahead.

Heads up: this book gets DARK…. Rose’s journey pits her against bullies, thieves, and even sex traffickers. As she faces each challenge, her love for Jack and hope for their future keep her from giving up. While Darbon does an excellent job in creating Rose’s voice and an action-packed plot, she falls short on Rose’s overall character development. The romance is certainly heartwarming–and shows Rose’s acting with her own agency when her parents want to limit her choices–but throughout the book, Rose defines herself only in terms of her relationship with Jack. It was really all I knew about her interests by the end of the book: Jack, Jack’s artwork, her future marriage to Jack. This would annoy me in any romance, but is particularly disappointing in a romance featuring a couple with disabilities.

The strength of the book is Rose’s courage in facing–and ultimately assisting the police to take down–the sex traffickers. Her “friendship” with the fifteen-year-old imprisoned in the brothel and the ways in which they ultimately help one another was my favorite aspect of the book. And the courage she finds to go to the police in the end is incredible. The challenges she faces would (and do) daunt even typically-abled characters, and you will reach the end of the novel knowing that Rose’s disability does not make her weak.

In short, I’d recommend ROSIE LOVES JACK as a thriller or contemporary fiction with a unique narrative voice, but as a romance ft. a couple with disabilities, I wish it were more nuanced.

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