Magnolia by Kristi Cook captured my attention because it takes place in the south and seemed from the synopsis to be exactly the sort of love story I like. The thought of a reverse Romeo and Juliet (where the families are super close but kids are not having it) is an intriguing one. The promise of those things in the synopsis is fully delivered, and despite a little more melodrama than I typically like in my contemporary YA, it was a fun and enjoyable read.
In Magnolia Branch, Mississippi, the Cafferty and Marsden families are southern royalty. Neighbors since the Civil War, the families have shared vacations, holidays, backyard barbecues, and the overwhelming desire to unite their two clans by marriage. So when a baby boy and girl were born to the families at the same time, the perfect opportunity seemed to have finally arrived.
Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden have no intention of giving in to their parents’ wishes. They’re only seventeen, for goodness’ sake, not to mention that one little problem: They hate each other! Jemma can’t stand Ryder’s nauseating golden-boy persona, and Ryder would like nothing better than to pretend stubborn Jemma doesn’t exist.
But when a violent storm ravages Magnolia Branch, it unearths Jemma’s and Ryder’s true feelings for each other as the two discover that the line between love and hate may be thin enough to risk crossing over.
Magnolia is told in first person from Jemma's perspective, but it is equally Ryder's story. Due to the close relationship between their families, he is there for every important event in Jemma's life and highly present through the entire novel. I liked both of their characters a lot. She is fiery, stubborn, and temperamental. He is loyal, patient, and all around good guy. Both of them make some mistakes very typical of their ages. I loved how brave both of them were though in pursuing their dreams and wanting to carve out their own futures, and not live the lives the parents were dreaming for them. I also liked how they are not your typical modern YA characters. He is the quarterback of the football team and she is the co-coptain of the cheerleading squad. They are not part of the quirky outcast group, who thumbs up their noses at the popular kids and demonizes them. They ARE the popular kids. And why shouldn't there be some YA books that has those kids as the heroes? It just isn't something we see as much anymore and it was refreshing. The evolution of their relationship is one that I loved. It is sort of a hate to love story, but it is ALSO sort of a best friend to lovers story. I love both of these types and never in a million years thought they could be successfully combined, but here you go. The chemistry between Jemma and Ryder is strong and there are some intense and outright hot scenes in the book. It is a slow burn type romance full of tension and heated glances and a longing for them to just get on with it already. All things I like in a romance.
The plot revolves around the life Jemma and Ryder lead, the parties, the old southern traditions, and football. I liked the way the setting is handled. I have little patience for southern novels that don't portray the south correctly, and this one does. However, the plot veered a little bit more into the melodramatic than I typically like. Jemma's sister has a benign brain tumor that needs an operation which is how her and Ryder end up alone at her house when a hurricane hits. Her parents and his mom have taken her sister to Houston for her surgery when the storm comes. And to me, brain surgery plus tornado spawning hurricane plus romantic tension is plenty of drama for one story. That part was working just fine. Except something ELSE is added to that post hurricane that tipped the story into the too much category for me. I was invested enough in Jemma and Ryder that it is only a minor quibble for me, but it did have me rolling my eyes when it happened.
I very much enjoyed Magnolia overall and am looking forward to reading more books by this author.
I received an e-galley from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Edelweiss. Magnolia is available for purchase on August 5.