The other day, a friend was telling me about her ex-husband who is engaged to someone significantly younger than her or him. She was saying she is worried about how his new wife will handle being a step-mother to her teenaged daughter and tween son - the fiance is not the "warm and fuzzy" type, nevermind the mother-figure. I said, "I just heard a story like this from someone else. Who was that? Maybe you two should form a support group!" As I wracked my brain to remember who it was, it dawned on me: it was the characters from Just for Fun by Rosalind James. This could be a sign of how much I immersed myself in these books. Or, more likely, it's a sign of how Ms. James created such immersible characters.
The book opens with Nic Wilkerson, young hottie star of the All Blacks rugby team, helping out at a rugby camp for kids. A young player catches his eye for having great moves. When six year old Zack returns to his mother, Nic realizes he knew her - six years and nine months ago. Nic is engaged to the posh Claudia, but realizes that the feelings he has for Emma, nevermind Zack, go deeper than he imagined. The connections that exist between these three grow and deepen, and develop into a wonderful family.
One one level, this book is about trust. And making mistakes. And working through them - as Emma says, there are days her philosophy has to be, "Just getting through till I get to something better." In the first three books, all of the characters live in a world where everything was easy, or else challenges were handled with ease. With Emma, we see what it is like to struggle. She gets through, but we see her work hard, and rely on others.
We also explore what it means to be a man, and what it's like for a father to raise a son. Nic's Dad, George, acted a certain way towards Nic; as the son, Nic acted a certain way towards George. Now, as the Dad, Nic sees his relationship with his father through a different lens (or, more accurately, takes the blinders off the lenses he already wore), and tries for a different relationship with Zack. And Zack has yet another relationship with Nic. I often say it is easier to parent "the other gender" - for mothers to parent sons, and for fathers to parent daughters. As we see in this family, each man's/boy's interactions with the other is influenced by his perceptions of himself, and how he thinks he is supposed to act. The last scene with Nic and Zack is enough to bring tears to your eyes; it should be required reading for every Dad out there.
I'm trying to not give every book five hearts, but I have to say this book deserves five hearts as well as Just Good Friends. The characters are just so deep, and so strong, and their journey - both independent of and joined with each other - is so memorable, that I clearly think the characters are real.