Readers turn to romance novels for many reasons; they’re a bastion of enduring hope, as things are guaranteed to end well. But another draw is the way romance novels depict how characters who have experienced trauma and anxiety can find ways to heal and cope, with the added bonus of finding a partner who exudes support and acceptance. In these two contemporary romances, authors Sonali Dev and Roni Loren introduce characters whose lives have been changed by violence and fear and who carefully chart their paths toward recovery as well as true love.
Sonali Dev continues her Rajes series of Jane Austen retellings with Incense and Sensibility. Indian American politician Yash Raje has launched himself into the race to become California’s next governor, but while attending a campaign rally, he is the victim of a racist assassination attempt. Although the plot is foiled and he is unharmed, Yash is deeply traumatized. Being the direct target of gun violence leaves him anxious and fearful, despite the boost it’s giving him in the polls.
Yash wants to treat his anxiety and PTSD before their severity is made public, so he seeks help from India Dashwood, a stress-management coach and yoga teacher. The situation is complicated by the fact that India isn’t a stranger to Yash; the two had a passionate affair 10 years ago, and he hasn’t forgotten her since.
As with many of Dev’s central couples, Yash and India are endearingly bighearted. Their closed-off, protective demeanors cloak how much they’re seeking to be loved and understood by someone willing to make the effort. Dev masterfully explores the darker moments of being human while leading the reader to a realistic, hard-won romantic ending. Incense and Sensibility shares its source text’s focus on family, but it also launches Austen’s novel into the 21st century with its emotional, complex survey of racial identity in America.
What If You & Me, Roni Loren’s newest release in her Say Everything series, also puts mental health front and center. Andi Lockley’s life is shaped by a traumatic experience she had as a teenager, the details of which Loren carefully and sensitively spools out later in the novel. Despite her isolated lifestyle, Andi is still able to pursue her passions and work as a horror writer and true crime podcaster. But there’s one thing currently disturbing her carefully constructed peace: her neighbor, Hill Dawson, whose insomnia is annoying audible through the thin walls of his and Andi’s duplex.
To call Hill a grump is putting it mildly, but the former firefighter has a good reason for his standoffishness. He’s grieving the loss of his career and part of his leg following a disastrous rescue mission. When Andi and Hill finally come face-to-face, the two prickly neighbors feel something unexpected, and their instant attraction kicks off a casual arrangement.
Both Andi and Hill have issues to work through, and What If You & Me emphasizes that when it comes to healing from trauma, you don’t have to go it alone. This love story heaps on the yearning; Andi and Hill smolder through their agonizingly slow-burning romance. Loren’s unparalleled ability to plumb the depths of her characters is on full display in this multilayered and emotional romance.