Sunday, September 3, 2017

Book Review: 'Close Enough to Touch' by Colleen Oakley

Jubilee Jenkins is a disconsolate and lonely woman in her twenties. She never knew her father, her single mother moved away, and Jubilee has remained housebound in a small New Jersey town for nine years. She suffers from an extremely rare condition—an allergy to people. If anyone were to touch her skin, she would break out in a rash, go into anaphylactic shock, and possibly die without prompt medical attention. Jubilee finds it less stressful to spend her time reading, listening to music, watching television, and using her computer (she plays games, orders food, and takes online courses) rather than leave her home and cope with the dangers of the outside world. Unfortunately, when her money runs out, she has to find a job, which presents challenges that she is unequipped to face. Fortunately, a position in a library falls into her lap and she happily accepts it. She has to wear gloves at all times (this raises some eyebrows), but she does not explain to her colleagues why her hands must be protected.

Unexpectedly, another troubled individual, Eric Keegan, enters her life. He is divorced, has a fourteen-year-old daughter whom he rarely sees, and a ten-year-old adopted son, Aja. Eric and Jubilee form an attachment, but for a while, he has no idea why she behaves so strangely. Will his growing attraction to her fade when he finally learns the truth? Meanwhile, Eric, who is trying to deal with his children's serious emotional issues, blames himself for being an incompetent father. At least Jubilee and Aja get along well; she helps bring the boy out of his shell.

In less skillful hands, Colleen Oakley's "Close Enough to Touch" could have been a sentimental tear-jerker. However, as she proved in "Before I Go," this author is an expert at delving into her characters' psyches and, by offering intimate details about their thoughts, feelings, and actions, she makes them believable and sympathetic. We ache for Jubilee, who is bright, pretty, and longs for the love and social contact that has been denied her. In addition, we care about the good-hearted Eric, who is trying to bring order to his unsettled life. The author touchingly depicts the connection that develops between these two lost souls, as well as the daunting obstacles that stand in their way. Although there are some clich├ęs (a new female friend pops up out of the blue) and a number of unlikely developments, most readers will gladly suspend their disbelief. This is a moving, funny, tender, and romantic novel about the vagaries of fate; fragility of relationships; parental guilt; and the fear that prevents people from taking risks. I devoured this book in one day, shed a few tears, and was captivated by its sweetness, sincerity, warmth, and humor.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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