Dear Ms. Grey:
Wow, do I like this book. Which surprises me because, prior to reading Take What You Want, your New Adult romance, I’d yet to encounter a NA that did much for me. I had thought I was either too old and cranky and/or too surrounded by actual New Adults to enjoy tales of their travails, but now, after reading Take What You Want, I realize I just hadn’t found the right one.
Ellen Price is a pre-med senior who keeps her head down in class, gets good grades, and pays for her apartment with a crappy waitressing job. She didn’t have the money to join her friends on a Spring Break trip to the Bahamas but, after dropping them off at the airport, she made a plan.
It had seemed simple, at the time. No, she couldn’t go to the Bahamas, or anywhere else for that matter. But she could still take a vacation of sorts—a vacation from herself.
She’d raided her petty cash jar and gone shopping at someplace other than Target for once. Standing in front of the dressing room mirror, dolled up in clothes she would never have been caught dead in normally, she’d seen a flash of fire in her own eyes. All the resentment and stress had boiled over, and with it, her resolve had been set in place.
For one week—one blessed week—she’d be someone else. With no one around to watch her flail or to remark on her strange behavior, she could do anything, be whoever she pleased. The confident woman who took what she wanted.
So Ellen walks into a bar, dressed in the sexiest outfit she’s ever donned, picks up a stranger, takes him home, and has the best sex of her life.
Except, he’s not a stranger. He’s a fellow pre-med student, Josh Markley, who not only knows who Ellen is, he’s had a crush on her for the past three years. When Ellen first comes on strong to Josh, he’s not sure what she’s up to. She’s got to recognize him, right? But, Ellen not only doesn’t seem to know who he is–she assumes he’s a student home for Spring Break–but, when he asks her what she does, she says she’s a waitress and mentions not a word about going to school there. Josh is a bit weirded out by sexy, seemingly untruthful Ellen but he’s wanted her since their freshman year and he’s not about to give up a chance to be with her.
Josh makes love to Ellen with every ounce of passion and skill he has the first night they meet. When he wakes up the next morning–he had to go home because he’d just started wearing contacts and was afraid to sleep in them–he’s determined to see her again.
The first time he’d seen Ellen, she’d been sitting on the edge of the fountain outside the lecture hall. It had been late spring, their freshman year. And she’d been so beautiful. So sexy and yet so removed from what was going on around her.
He’d hardly spoken a dozen words to her in the years since, but his first impressions had held true. She was serious and quiet, studious and demurring. Last night, though…last night she’d been a succubus in a short skirt, and with her brazenness, she’d brought out a side of him he barely recognized in himself. Just thinking about lifting her up onto her knees and taking her from behind like that…
….He found his contacts case exactly where he’d left it the night before, and with the same carefulness he’d used the first time, he got the clear circles into his eyes. He stared at himself again. His vision was sharper than it had ever been in glasses, but he still felt like he wasn’t really seeing himself—or the situation—clearly.
He still didn’t know what Ellen was doing.
All he knew was that he wanted to do it again. And again. And again.
Josh realizes he has less than a week to win Ellen and, at some point, tell her he knows her secret. He knows he makes her scream in bed but that’s not enough. He wants her to fall for him as he’s fallen for her, to trust him with her life, and to keep their relationship going when they are back in chem class together when Spring Break ends. Josh is smart, funny, sweet, sexy, and focused. Each hour he spends with Ellen, whether it’s in the shower, or on his Harley, or lying next to her on the roof staring at millions of stars, Josh listens to Ellen, trying to understand who she is. He’s not a manipulative guy, however. He also pushes her to give him what he needs.
Josh needs love and acceptance right now more than he ever has. He’s his physician father’s only child and, for as long as Josh can remember, his dad has pushed him hard to go to medical school. Josh though doesn’t want to be that kind of doctor. He wants to be the kind who has a PhD in chemistry. He’s been girding himself to tell his dad on their annual camping trip coming up this weekend and he’s dreading it. His marvelous mom tells him to have faith in his relationship with his dad, but it’s hard for Josh to feel as though he’s not going to crush his dad’s dreams.
Josh is a great hero. He’s that rare thing: a perfect guy who doesn’t seem fake, dull, or unbelievable. Here, after taking Ellen on a sexy ride on his motorcycle, he’s just turned down a third night of heating up the sheets with her and asked her out on an official date instead.
God, but she’d almost killed him, clinging to him the way she had. A hundred times on the way home, he’d cursed himself for not taking them to her apartment and carrying her upstairs, driving into her right there on her entryway floor. She’d cleaved to him so tightly, pressed those hot hands to his abdomen in a way that made his skin scream out for more, more, more.
But three times was a pattern, and he’d seen a future he didn’t like spread out before him. If he’d given in and just taken her again, without ceremony or discussion, it would have doomed them. And wanting more wasn’t just about wanting her body.
He wanted the seductress in the high heels and short skirts, all right, the one that oozed sex and confidence. But he wanted the girl in the plain sweaters with the loose waves that fell over her face, too. The one that hid in the last row of the lecture hall but who always knew the answers. The one that dissected a pig all by herself, looking kissable even in a rubber apron and goggles and gloves.
He wanted her to want more than a fuck from him. He wanted her to remember him. To know him.
And this was his chance—his chance to prove to her that he was worth more.
Ellen too is a wonderful character. As Jane points out, New Adult fiction showcases protagonists that are “on the cusp of discovering themselves, where they fit into life, what allowances they will make, and how they relate to others.” In Take What You Want, Ellen does just that in ways that are self-affirming and freeing. It’s a joy to watch her trust in her new-found sensuality and discover that her life can give her more, much more, than she’s previously demanded of it. As she spends time listening to Josh, she pushes him to take the same chances with his father that she is with him. By garnering strength from the care they show each other, Josh and Ellen both take what they want and the process is lovely to see. Josh and Ellen change in the lives they have outside of each other–Josh with his parents, Ellen at her waitressing job–in ways that compliment the relationship they build between themselves.
I also enjoyed the dialogue in this book. Each character has a strong separate voice and the discussions they have sound real.
He picked up his butter knife and seesawed it back and forth across his knuckles. “I majored in chemistry. It’s a good choice for pre-med anyway, and I just…like it. One of the professors kind of took me under his wing and stuff, and I’ve been working in his lab. It’s…nice. Less memorizing, more math. No patients or worrying about who you’re going to kill that day. More my speed, you know?”
“So why don’t you do that?”
And in that moment, he honestly didn’t know.
He forced the shutters back down, though, and gave a tight-lipped smile. “It’s complicated. Anyway.” Josh flipped the knife over to catch it in his palm. “That’s my what and my why. Why do you want to be a doctor?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ve just always wanted to help people, and science always came easy for me. The money would be nice, too.”
The way her forehead crinkled, he guessed the money wasn’t a small part of the equation. Sticking to her story, he asked, “Is that why you’re at the diner? To save up for school?”
I could go on and on. The sex scenes are lovely and hot. The college town is spot on. Even the “we fell in love in a week” works here. The writing is crisp and clear. And, oh, the last scene in the book is flat-out fabulous. In it, Ms. Grey takes all the strands of her novel and all the hopes and dreams Josh and Ellen have and creates pretty much the sweetest ending I’ve read in a romance in a long time.
I loved Take What You Want. It gets an A- from me.