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Readers Advisory: How We Fall by Kate Brauning

Merit Press, $17.99 hardbound, ISBN-10 1440581797, October 2014

Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting way too much–and with her own cousin, Marcus. Her friendship with him has turned into something she can’t control, and he’s the reason Jackie lost track of her best friend, Ellie, who left for…no one knows where. Now Ellie has been missing for months, and the police, fearing the worst, are searching for her body. Swamped with guilt and the knowledge that acting on her love for Marcus would tear their families apart, Jackie pushes her cousin away. The plan is to fall out of love, and, just as she hoped he would, Marcus falls for the new girl in town. But something isn’t right about this stranger, and Jackie’s suspicions about the new girl’s secrets only drive the wedge deeper between Jackie and Marcus–and deepens Jackie’s despair. Then Marcus is forced to pay the price for someone else’s lies as the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance starts to become horribly clear. Jackie has to face terrible choices. Can she leave her first love behind, and can she go on living with the fact that she failed her best friend?

Before I say anything about the book, a couple of facts:

  • Despite the usual jokes about the Deep South, first cousins can legally marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Even stereotypically cosmopolitan states like California and New York allow it. Six other states allow cousin marriage under special circumstances, usually that the parties are too old to bear children.
  • According to a study published in The Journal of Genetic Counseling in 2002, the children of first cousin couple are twice as likely to have birth defects as those of unrelated couples, but in this case, “twice as likely” means a 4-6% chance versus a 2-3% chance. The real problems crop up when a family group has repeated intermarriage.
  • Historically, families wanted cousins to marry. Not only did they figure that people from the same family would have similar values and therefore get along and raise the children the “right” way, resources such as land stayed in the family that way. However, sticking to that policy does lead to repeated intermarriage, and then you do wind up with birth defects. Perhaps that’s why in North Carolina, double cousin marriage is prohibited. (Double cousin: Say John and Dave Smith are brothers. Ida and Clara Johnson are sisters. John and Ida marry and have a daughter. Dave and Clara marry and have a son. Said son and daughter are double cousins, related on both sides of the family, and could not marry in North Carolina. Apparently it’s come up, which isn’t surprising when you consider the fact that we were a much less mobile society when the law passed. Smaller dating pools, you understand.)

In other words, although the West has a societal taboo against them, first cousin relationships aren’t as icky as we’ve been led to believe. I for one am glad to know the gross factor is actually non-existent, because although the blurb might lead one to think this story is about a girl who’s flirting with her cousin, she is in fact having regular make out sessions with her cousin and has been for a year when the story opens. Their rules: just friends who make out, no labels, no dating, and for goodness’s sakes, no telling friends or family! Keeping the secret isn’t easy; their families share a house, although until Jackie’s family moved in with Marcus’s about a year ago, the two teens barely knew each other.

Jackie wants to stop liking Marcus and can’t handle the thought of how people would see them if the truth came out. At the same time, she doesn’t want to give him up. They’re great together; heck, they’d be the perfect couple if they just weren’t related. When a gorgeous new girl with a crush on Marcus moves to town, Jackie vacillates between intense jealousy and telling Marcus he needs someone he can openly love. Soon, though, she realizes the new girl might know something about the disappearance of her friend Ellie.

Between Marcus’s truck getting vandalized, some weird stalker guy popping up around town, and trying to end their relationship without going insane, the two leads really pour on the drama. Brauning also packs in the steamy make out scenes at high volume, and I’m not going to lie: they’re pretty darn hot. Most readers will easily guess the answer to the mysterious subplot, but the will-they-won’t-they forbidden love story will keep its hook in you right up until the end.

***SPOILER*** The lovebirds finally decide to be together no matter the cost, so if you’re looking for a story about withstanding temptation, keep on looking.

Recommend to: Contemporary romance fans who want a little taboo in their reading

To buy or not to buy: Great choice for public YA collections

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