"November 9" by Colleen Hoover
When I was a teen, I went through a period during which I watched lots of classic films — Maybe because they were 99 cents, and always in stock, at Blockbuster.
I’m pretty sure this stage started with musicals, the most memorable being West Side Story - which was specifically notable for the ocean of tears it elicited when *Spoiler Alert* Tony dies.
I mean, the movie came out 56 years ago, so you still have to spoiler alert that shit?
Oh well, CYA.
Anyway, the classic film that ended up being my favorite was Same Time Next Year. This romantic dramedy starred Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn as two married people who, after accidentally hooking up one night, decide to make said hook-up an annual ritual and enact plans to meet every year, on the same date, at the same remote New England hotel.
Ultimately, it was the similarity between the plot of this film — which will forever hold a place in my esteem — and the plot of this book that first attracted me to November 9.
Well, that and I am in the middle of a pretty serious Colleen Hoover binge, so this was a logical next choice.
Unlike in Same Time Next Year, the destined — or maybe doomed, depending on how you look at it — pair of lovers in this book is neither old nor married.
Instead, they are both young — 18-years-old — and single.
The pair meet — in pretty much the cutest of meet cutes — when our male lead, Ben, hears the father of our female lead, Fallon, being relatively insensitive to her in a public place. Feeling compelled to take on the knight in shining armor role, Ben slides into the booth next to Fallon and pretends to be her boyfriend.
After defusing the situation and leaving her father suitably befuddled, the pair spend the day together — obviously — and, in doing so, manage to fall pretty much head over heels in love with each other.
But there is a problem.
The primary cause of Fallon’s disagreement with her father was the fact that she is planning to leave LA, where the book is set, and move to New York City to pursue a career as a stage actress. Unusually enough, it’s not the prospect of his daughter taking up acting that upsets her father — he was, after all, a relatively well known TV actor — it is instead the fact that he doesn’t see it as a realistic goal for Fallon anymore as a result of a disfiguring accident she experienced two years prior.
But the soon-to-be-present geographical divide isn’t the only issue.
Fallon is also reticent to start a relationship with Ben because her mother always cautioned her that she shouldn’t get into a serious relationship until she was 23.
Because, apparently, by 23 you know who you are.
Listen, I’m 35 and I’m still not entirely sure who I am, so I’m not sure I agree. But, whatever.
So the couple finds themselves at a pretty-early-in-the-relationship crossroads.
After their day together, Ben and Fallon like each other too much to never see each other again, but the obstacles they face make a traditional relationship seem unusually difficult.
Their solution — as you’ve probably already guessed — is to enact what would appear to be an ill begotten plan and meet up, once a year, each bringing with them on each visit some literal — and figurative — baggage.
As I’ve learned I can safely expect when reading a Colleen Hoover book, the characters in this novel were realistic and relatable.
One of the reasons that I have — perhaps unfairly — historically overlooked romance novels is that I perceived the character development to, generally, be weak in books of this genre.
And, if we are talking classic Harlequin bodice-rippers with an oil painting of Fabio on the cover, his chest shaved and shiny and his mane blowing in the wind as he gallops to the rescue on a muscled steed, then yes, that stereotype is probably true.
But when it comes to modern romances, specifically those by Colleen Hoover, it’s an unfair characterization.
As I moved through this novel, I didn’t only delight in seeing the plot develop, I also got to see the characters develop into rich and robust individuals.
And neither of these primarily was without flaws, which made them as individuals, and their relationship as a whole, more true to life.
There was an artistry in the way that Colleen Hoover revealed these flaws as well.
By mapping out the character development as she did, Hoover mirrored real-life relationships, making it feel like we were getting to know someone just as organically as we would have had we had met the person on Match.com or eHarmony or Tinder.
Okay, not Tinder.
*Spoilers Ahead - Kind of*
While the book alternated points of view throughout, it was Fallon who we really got to know — whose flaws we saw — first. This, initially, leaves us feeling like Fallon is a broken person while Ben is a whole human trying to save her from her brokenness. But then we find out that Ben is just as irrevocably broken.
And that’s when the paradigm shifts. It becomes not about a broken person being put back together by someone who has never felt pain. Instead it’s about two people, hurting together, and finding that the only glue strong enough to hold each of them together is each other.
And this means that our protagonists aren’t alone.
And, maybe if they aren’t alone, we, as readers, aren’t alone.
I cannot in good conscience conclude my discussion of the strengths of this book without also mentioning the twist.
As I have come to learn, Colleen Hoover books contain twists.
And I fucking love them.
This is the second time that a CoHo twist has absolutely, inarguably surprised me.
And let me qualify that by saying that:
Literally. Never. Happens.
Unlike many twists I don’t see coming — which I don’t foresee because they are really, really, really improbable and, as a result, pretty shitty twists TBH — this twist was, oddly, believable. And what’s more, it substantially enhanced both the depth and the meaning of the book as a whole.
But, just like the characters it contained, this book wasn’t entirely flaw-free.
While I gave the first Colleen Hoover book I read — It Ends With Us — An unqualified 5 cocktails and an of-my-god-this-made-me-cry-even-more-than-I-cried-when-Tony-died-in-West-Side-Story (which we have already established, was a fucking lot!), this one didn’t quite hit that mark.
But, let me say, it was so, so close.
While the ability to elicit tears isn’t necessarily the measure of a good book, November 9 did make me cry — but only one stoic tear that I could easily swipe away, not buckets.
But, unlike my prior read, there were sections of this book that plodded along a bit. It also contained some details and scenes that didn’t really drive the plot in any meaningful way, IMO. These factors ever-so-slightly dampening my excitement to keep reading.
That said, this was an exceptionally solid book that I have already recommended to friends — and to that one stranger I ran into at Barnes and Noble who probably wasn’t looking for a book recommendation but instead just wanted to pick up her double tall nonfat no whip caramel macchiato from the in-store Starbucks.
It gets a well-deserved 4 out of 5 cocktails.
What am I going to read next, you ask. Maybe another Colleen Hoover… but maybe something else. To see what I picked, follow me, here.
Is there a certain genre you simply don’t read? Mine use to be romance. But, obvi, times change. Tell me about the genre you loathe in the comments, below.