|Gina Wilkins has written another simple story that works due to her concentration on developing characters that seem like old friends. The Date Next Door is a good romantic story worth a look.
Joel Brannon has been a widower for five years. He’s also a pediatrician. Joel has been living in Little Rock away from his family in order to rebuild his life following the car accident that killed his childhood sweetheart and wife, Heather. He feels like he has done a good job of finding balance again – he has a practice he loves, friends and a nice little house that suits him just fine. He has been invited to his 15th high school reunion. Joel is dreading it because the people he grew up with still think he is mourning Heather and don’t realize that he is ready to move on. His parents and his brother fit that category too.
But Joel gets the idea to bring a date so everyone can see he is rebuilding his life. He invites his good friend and neighbor Nicole Sawyer to go with him, even telling her why. They have been friends since he moved into his house, which is next door to hers, the house she was raised in and currently living in while her mother is out of the country. Nicole is a police officer in the Little Rock suburb and loves her job and her life. She has friends even though she struggles with romantic relationships. Most men can’t handle the fact that she is quite capable of taking care of herself.
The story follows Joel and Nicole as they go to the reunion and realize that there is more than just friendship to their feelings. Now they have to decide what to do about it.
Joel and Nicole jump off the pages. They are full of thoughts, feelings and knowledge of their needs and wants…except when it comes to how they feel about the other. Each is fearful of ruining a great friendship. Yet the sparks are definitely there. The sense of how hard it is to go home again comes through so clearly, too. Many people experience uneasiness and the sense of unreality when they go to class reunions. Wilkins captures that mixture of people who have not left their hometowns with those who have in a realistic portrait. There are some funny scenes, some poignant scenes and some eye-opening scenes. All of them are vibrant for one reason or another.
Most secondary characters were a bit on the caricature side in order to show the wide contrast. Yet most of the more important characters had some added depth to make them seem real. For instance, Joel’s mother is clearly not happy that Nic is there and may be replacing her deceased and somewhat sainted daughter-in-law. Yet we also learn that she has lost a child and fears getting too close to someone new who might also get killed, especially given her chosen profession. This sense of understanding keeps her character from being too harsh.
Joel and Nic are both strong willed and clearly professionals, yet they show their vulnerability and work through their issues like adults. There is no long running misunderstanding keeping them apart – just some soul searching that has to happen in order for them to make it.
The Date Next Door is a well written and engaging tale. Don’t hesitate to pick it up.