Heroine Darcy Barrett is a mess. Hero Tom Valeska is perfect. Author Sally Thorne has a conceit. When the novel opens, Darcy possesses 1% of Tom Valeska; by its end, 99. Isn’t that a neat little metaphor of the genre’s narrative arc and the reader’s journeying along? Thorne also gives 99 Percent Mine a nice “flip”; just as Tom “flips” the cottage Darcy inherited from her grandmother Loretta, Thorne flips the romance convention of perfect heroine (because women must be perfect) and flawed hero (because a man’s embroiling in the messiness of the world must be redeemed by a good, virginal woman): typical HP-fare. Not in Thorne’s funny, heart-clenching romance of the befriended-boy now turned man and the girl and her twin brother who claimed him as their own, as if he was a stray animal turned family pet. Tom Valeska, six-six and perfectly striated muscles, warm, kind eyes, and gentle, rumbly voice has loved Darcy Barrett and her brother Jamie and their parents for giving him a home, their friendship and love, and the stability the poor boy of a single mum didn’t have. Now, he has a chance to give them their inheritance back a hundred-fold by making their grandmother’s cottage a great big ole moneymaker. And he cannot fail them.
At eighteen, Tom Valeska declared his love for Darcy and Darcy ran away. Eight years later, a heart condition neglected, Darcy is tough, bad, unrepentent, and plays the male-field like a baseball diamond. She works in a bar, subsists on sugar and booze, and wears black like a French philosopher on the Rive Gauche. If it weren’t for the bad ticker, Darcy would be smoking Gitanes and eying Tom like a cat on a hot tin roof. Well, she does do that. She’s give-it-to-me-big-boy to Tom’s sexual diffidence, crass to his soft-spoken manners, impulsive and abrupt to his responsible and steady. And they’ve loved each other forEVAH, it’s obvious from page one at 1% and perfect on the last when Tom makes it 99. I think it’s a hoot that 1% is left over for her brother, Jamie, Tom’s BFF. In the in-between time, tiles are crow-barred; gyprock, laid; Darcy circles Tom like a shark with a minnow. I loved the incongruity of their size: big-ole-Tom, adoring and loyal, possessive, protective, prudent and sharp-edged, messed-up, come-on girl Darcy, hiding her vulnerability behind a bravado of banter.
I didn’t think I’d like this book. I’m not a rom-com fan. And I especially didn’t want to like it because of the leftover hype of The Hating Game. But I did more than like it, I kinda loved it. Like many people who suffer illness in childhood, who have parents, friends, siblings hover, protect, warn, Darcy has broken out and broken herself, just because she can. And like many children who are poor and in need of friendship, Tom feels like he can’t make any wrong moves or he’ll lose what he has. He doesn’t know that he’s the best thing that’s happened to Darcy and Jamie, other than their loving parents, good looks, and soluble bank accounts. Tom doesn’t know what it is to have and Darcy doesn’t know how to keep. The glue that will keep this unlikely pair together, and it’s utterly convincing, is love.
99 Percent Mine will read wonderful if the reader buys into and enjoys Darcy’s snarky, self-loathing, hot-to-trot-and-hot-for-Valeska voice. Darcy and Tom rocked my reader world because I loved Darcy: libidinal, vulnerable, obnoxious, and very, very funny. But throughout her journey to get her beautiful cipher of a man, she’s genuine, her own messed up self. Nevertheless, she can also think herself out of her funk and change her globe-trotting, ahem escaping, ways and show Tom, self-effacing, perfectionist Tom, allthingstoallpeopleTom, he is good, loveable, and worthy.
I loved being on the Darcy-and-Tom train, but more than anything I will forever LOVE Thorne for one particular innocuous scene. You may miss it, but it’s priceless, so don’t. Thorne can write great animals, mainly Tom’s geriatric chihuahua Patty, tapping, dancing, and being a lovable nuisance. And the aloof mysterious cat, Diana, whom we glimpse only if we and Darcy are very lucky. One incomparable moment: Diana is regally surveying the front lawn from a cottage window, Darcy innocently picks up Patty and kisses “her little dome head. From the laundry window, Diana’s aghast face is like the feline version of The Scream.” Anyone who’s ever had a cat knows this look and Thorne finds the perfect allusion for it. I guffawed and snorted tea through my nose. This gives you a teensy sampling of why I loved 99 Percent Mine. With Miss Austen’s assent and apropos of Darcy’s beats-for-Tom-afflicted-ticker, we say 99 Percent Mine is proof “there is no charm equal to tenderness of heart,” Emma.
Sally Thorne’s 99 Percent Mine is published by William Morrow. It was released on January 29th and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from William Morrow, via Edelweiss+.