Stephanie Bonds has written an entertaining book in I Think I Love You. However, I wonder if it will satisfy die-hard romance fans. The fact is that this story is much more about family relationships than it is about love. While it has one major and two minor romances, these take a back seat to a portrayal of how secrets and betrayals can shape lives and how sisterly love can be first lost and then found.
The Metcalf girls of Monroeville, North Carolina - Justine, Regina and Mica - were different. Their parents - children of the sixties - had never bothered to get married. They lived together and ran their antique store together, but held that marriage was an unnecessary bourgeois institution. Their daughters thus were something of outsiders in their conservative hometown. Perhaps it was this that led the three to a fateful decision. When the witnessed the murder of their promiscuous Aunt Lyla, wife of the local mayor, while spying on the local lovers’ lane, they made a pact never to tell anyone what they had seen. After all, they couldn’t identify the killer, so why put themselves at risk?
Twenty years later, the sisters have kept their pact, but not their relationship. Justine had been engaged to marry her father’s assistant, the handsome Dean Haviland. Then, on their wedding day, he ran off to Los Angeles with eighteen year old Mica. Justine and Mica have not talked for twelve years. All three girls have been successful professionally. Justine is vice-president of a cosmetic company; Mica is the Tara Hair Girl, recognized nationally as the model in commercials; Regina, a typical middle child, is an editor for a Boston publisher, in charge of the self-help books that give her hope that relationships can be repaired.
Circumstances bring the three sisters back to Monroeville. Regina has come because her parents are splitting up after thirty-eight years of non-marriage. Both Justine and Mica are fleeing from bad situations and have no place to go but home. The unexpected reunion sets off all sorts of fireworks, both among the sisters and in relation to that long ago murder that they witnessed.
Notice that I have written more than half the review without mentioning the romance. There is one: Regina meets Mitchell, the appraiser sent by the bank to evaluate the contents of her parents’ antique barn. Not only do the Metcalfs have non-marital problems; they are also deeply in debt. Mitchell is handsome, charming, and clearly a rolling stone. Regina, always in the shadow of her more glamorous sisters, doesn’t realize how lovely she is. Mitch does. He also appreciates her kindness, her wit and her intelligence.
The romance is nicely done but it is somewhat secondary to the family relationships which are at the center of I Think I Love You. None of the Metcalf sisters have been able to escape the traumas of their pasts. Justine still feels betrayed by her erstwhile fiancé and her sister. Regina still feels overshadowed and inadequate compared to her sisters. Mica’s relationship with the selfish and manipulative Dean is tinged with guilt.
Bond has created a cast of fully developed characters, all flawed to some extent or another, all interesting, and all - except Dean and the villain of the piece - sympathetically presented. She has also provided an interesting mystery. Who killed Aunt Lyla all those years ago and who now seems to be threatening the Metcalf sisters because of their connection with this long ago murder?
The cover blurb by Deborah Smith refers to Stephanie Bond as “The new queen of romantic comedy.” This is a bit deceptive. Yes, there is humor in I Think I Love You. But this book is not romantic comedy. Rather, it is the story of family relationships and how they shape us all. There is a nice romance and it appears by the end that all three sisters are on their way to a “happily ever after,” but this book is much more about Justine and Regina and Mica as they move beyond past hurts to rediscover each other. Maybe only then can any of them find true love.