Info about the author: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Age group: Young Adult
Pages: 337 (Kindle edition)
Buy the book: Amazon - Book Depository
Description (from Goodreads):
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 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.
The premise of this book instantly made me so incredibly excited! I have always loved books (and movies and TV shows) about people who are so clearly meant to be together but who claim to hate each other and deny their feelings for as long as possible. The synopsis for Magnolia promises that, in addition to a Southern setting, which is always a big HELL YES for me. I don't know exactly why, but for some reason I've always been really fascinated with the small town, Southern US setting. And I am just dying to meet my own Southern gentleman.
Magnolia is set in a small town in Mississippi called Magnolia Branch. It is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone and it is extremely hard to keep anything as a secret. Like in a lot of Southern towns, traditions are rooted deep in Magnolia Branch and the families that have links to the Civil War reign as the town's royalty. Since the Civil War, the Cafferty and the Marsden families have been at the center of Magnolia Branch's social life and for decades, the families have been looking for an opportunity to unite the two families through marriage. When Jemma Cafferty and Ryder Marsden are born only a couple of weeks apart, the families, especially the mothers, feel like the perfect opportunity for that has finally arrived.
Growing up, Ryder and Jemma are friends, but as they grow up and start to realize the destiny their parents have designed for them, they start to drift apart. And then Jemma overhears Ryder saying something about her that breaks her heart and eventually they end up hating each other with passion. Their parents try to push them towards each other, but despite everything they try, it seems like Ryder and Jemma can't wait for a time they can finally leave each other behind and show their parents that what they are hoping for is never going to happen.
When Jemma's sister gets sick and her parents travel with her out of town, Jemma is left alone in Magnolia Branch. Everything is fine until a storm warning is given to the region and Jemma realizes that it might not be quite so fun to be alone after all. Behind her back, Jemma's father summons Ryder to their house to be with Jemma. At first, she is furious but as the storm starts to brew, she realizes that having Ryder there might not be that bad after all... especially since it seems like he's acting in a way that's not what Jemma's used to.
From page one, I liked Jemma. She's funny, strong and independent and bit of a badass to be honest. She is also temperamental and stubborn, which is something I definitely was able to identify with. She is girly and popular, but she's not bitchy or scheming at all, which I feel sometimes is established as the Southern stereotype (for example Lemon at the beginning of Hart of Dixie). And guess what's the best thing about Jemma? THE FACT THAT SHE WANTS TO GO TO FILM SCHOOL! I always love reading about characters who want to do something with film because that is something I find so easy to identify with (because I am a film student).
I completely understand why Jemma cannot stand Ryder. She has been pushed towards him since she was a child and I can say from personal experience that whatever my parents try to push me towards to intently usually becomes something I cannot stand. Also, Ryder seems almost too perfect at surface. He is the football star, the best student of the senior class and just generally loved by everyone. And in addition to that, he looks like a Greek god with his tall, toned body and dark eyes.
But there was a time Jemma used to feel a connection with Ryder. And though she tries to deny it, the moment she is forced to spend time with him as a result of the storm, those old feelings start to surface. I liked how slow the development of the relationship actually is - it does not develop from hate to love in a snap of the fingers, but actually takes time, which makes this book a much more realistic and believable.
To some extent, I wanted to hate Ryder at the beginning, just like Jemma, but I just couldn't do it. He is sweet, a true gentleman and I guess the fact that Jemma couldn't stand her made me just more eager to fall in love with him because I knew that Jemma would get it too at some point in the novel. I kept wanting to compare Ryder to one of the characters from film or TV shows that have a Southern setting, but couldn't really make any sort of comparison. Initially, I wished for a character like Tim Riggins or Wade Kinselle, someone incredible attractive and sweet, but at the same time misunderstood. What I got with Ryder was more like Jason Street or Matt Saracen, which I first thought I would not like but eventually ended up enjoying. So in short, I did love Ryder and I will have fond memories of him.
The minor characters in this book are interesting as well. There is Patrick, the guy Jemma kind of has something going on with before the storm hits. There are Jemma's parents - her father who has taught her to shoot and who seems to be not to be as strict as Jemma's mother, who tightly keeps up to her wish to see Jemma and Ryder together. There are Morgan and Lucy, Jemma's best friends and confidantes, who I wish there would have been more about in the book, though I do understand that this is the story of Jemma and Ryder, not the whole Magnolia Branch.
Cook's prose is easy and quick to read, and though it probably won't blow your mind away, I did enjoy this book and the way it was written immensely. The dialogue between the characters, especially Jemma and Ryder, is hilarious and I laughed out loud at several points. Also, with her words Cook was able to give me goosebumps with the romantic scenes between Ryder and Jemma. SO SWOONWORTHY!
The story is well paced and I am happy Cook did not shy away from taking the time to establish the history of the families and the rekindling relationship between Jemma and Ryder. What they have definitely isn't instalove, which I know is a big no-no for a large group of YA readers.
IS THERE SOMETHING I DID NOT LIKE?
Honestly... NO! I immensely enjoyed this book and had a very difficult time putting it down at 2.30 am when I had to go to sleep so I could get up at a decent hour in the morning. Magnolia was funny, romantic, surprisingly action packed and extremely entertaining and engaging.
When I read the synopsis for this one I had a feeling I would like it, but I never expected I would like it quite as much as I actually did. Magnolia kept me engaged from page one and I could not wait to see what happens with the storm, with Jemma and Ryder, and with Jemma's dreams about film school. I highly recommend Magnolia to everyone, but especially to people who have loved Morgan Matson's novels, In Honor by Jessi Kirby and people who find themselves enjoying anything romantic with a Southern setting.