REVIEW: Tack & Jibe by Lilah Suzanne
A romantic comedy about the undertow of a carefully curated life.
Raised on a small island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Willa has a picture-perfect nautical life: hanging out at the beach with her friends, living in a cozy seaside cottage, working at a sailing store, and running a hugely popular sailing Instagram. It’s so convincing that her overzealous online followers register her to compete in the High Seas, a televised national sailing championship. Too bad Willa doesn’t actually know how to sail.
Desperate to protect her carefully curated life, Willa tracks down four-time High Seas champion Lane Cordova, and begs her for a crash course in sailing before the race begins. But Lane’s mastery of the water is matched only by Willa’s ineptitude—and her growing crush on Lane isn’t helping matters. When the competition threatens to go awry and take her idealized life with it, Willa has to figure out if she can save her reputation from sinking while taking a chance on love.
Dear Lilah Suzanne,
The cover of “Tack & Jibe” called to me for a reason I still haven’t nailed down. Perhaps it looked as cute as the blurb promised the book would be. But at the risk of riling whoever wrote it, I wouldn’t exactly call this a rom-com. Instead the “undertow of a carefully curated life” is closer to what the story is about.
The third person present tense of the writing drew me in and soon I was fully in the life of young Willa Rogers, twenty two years of age, living in her grandparent’s small beach cottage and scraping out a living seemingly day by day. She lives with a best friend – at least until the summer season when the house is rented out and both Willa and Bodhi have to crash on couches or camp for three months – works both in a sail shop and at keeping her Instagram followers up to date with her interrupted sailing career. It’s actually interrupted because it’s only one of the things Willa has lied about. For years Willa has carefully crafted an identity to cover for her working class – and poor – childhood and also her lack of confidence. It’s become second nature to fib about most everything though not really for gain beyond initially getting her job. Her lies make her appear to be the person she wants to be but isn’t.
That all goes ass over end when somehow she gets entered into a prestigious sailing race, the news is printed in the island paper and suddenly everyone is going to be watching. Willa faces failing publicly on an epic scale. Her savior just might be the uptight woman Willa’s run afoul of a few times. Lane is older, beautiful. sophisticated, and a talented sailor. Can Willa talk Lane into helping her. Can these two – like oil and water – ever mix?
It turns out that both women are hiding their true selves. Willa is at first confused that Lane, who is such a natural sailor and at ease on the water, seems so rigid and unhappy on land. Lane snaps and snarls at Willa when Willa makes mistakes – and she makes a lot of them. Then Willa gets defensive and impulsive and screws things up even more. The two women are so different but then so much the same. Both hiding who they truly are for fear they won’t be accepted for who they are. Yet it’s with Lane that Willa is finally willing to tell the truth even if it’s mainly to get Lane to agree to teach her.
It’s hard watching Willa make mistakes and by acting without thinking, dig herself in deeper. It’s painful seeing Lane keep herself in a straitjacket, hide her emotions and expecting to be as rejected as Willa also fears. It was great seeing the easy acceptance of everyone’s sexuality. Roomie Bodhi is in a lesbian relationship and has two mothers. Willa at one point says she’s bi (though we never see any hetero relationship in the book). Willa coming out to her single mother was easy while Lane finally announcing to her stuck up and straight laced parents is painful but for Lane immensely freeing. Yet that part felt a little too pat and as soon as the parents were introduced, I guessed how the scene would play out. I did cheer at the message that older characters ought to be free to find and reinvent themselves.
The sailing stuff sounded okay though I have no expertise on the subject. I do know NC beach towns and everything about this one sounds spot on. The resolution of the sailing competition gives Willa a chance to finally come clean and then help Lane escape a life she doesn’t want to lead. The romance didn’t quite work as well and I didn’t finish the book convinced that Lane and Willa have completed reconciling their age and outlook-on-life differences. The epilogue did help but ending on a HFN rather than a HEA is, I think, the right thing for these two. B-