REVIEW: Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai
Dear Ms. Rai,
Last year, I read and enjoyed Hate to Want You, the first book in your Forbidden Hearts series. This review is of the second book in the same series, Wrong to Need You.
Jackson Kane has been in love with Sadia Ahmed, his sister-in-law, since they were both kids. In their teen years, Sadia, unaware of his feelings, started dating his older brother, Paul. Then, shortly after graduation, Jackson was accused of a crime he hadn’t committed—throwing a Molotov cocktail into the window of the C&O, a grocery store in a chain that had once half-belonged to his family, the Oka-Kanes, before one of the Chandlers, the family who co-owned it with them, pressured Jackson’s grieving mother to sell her shares.
Though the sole witness to the crime recanted, Jackson left town and has only returned recently, after a ten-year absence, and then solely to contact his sister, Livvie. Livvie is now out of town, having recently reunited with her star-crossed love, Nicholas Chandler. In her absence, Jackson gives in to an urge and goes to the bar where Sadia moonlights as a bartender.
Sadia not only works at the bar, she also occasionally picks up someone to hook up with there. When she spots Jackson, his face hidden by a cap, she doesn’t realize who he is but thinks he’s hot enough to flirt with. But partway through their reunion, she realizes who she’s talking to, and then she is immediately angry. For years she’s written emails to Jackson, not one of which he has replied to. Not even when her son and his nephew, Kareem, now six years old, was born. Not even when his brother passed away.
Jackson has good reasons for missing Paul’s funeral (he was in a French jail at the time, having been arrested for protesting) and even better reasons for staying away. But Sadia is unaware of either, and when it comes to the latter, Jackson doesn’t want her to find out.
After they part company, Jackson checks out Kane’s, the café his paternal grandparents once owned and which Paul bought back and ran prior to his death. Kane’s is now Sadia’s responsibility, but the stove needs fixing and there’s a “Help Wanted” notice in the window, seeking a chef. Though Sadia doesn’t know it, Jackson’s cooking is renowned—he cooks at pop-up restaurants the world over. Aware that he owes Sadia, Jackson decides that if she needs help, he will pitch in until Sadia can find another chef.
The next day, Sadia arrives to find Jackson cooking at the café, and though one of her employees quits in a huff due to the Molotov cocktail incident, Sadia keeps Jackson on. She does need his help—and as family, he has a right to work at the café. The compensation negotiations nearly grind to a halt until Sadia offers Jackson the use of the apartment above her house in lieu of payment.
Their proximity both at the café and at home leads Sadia to begin to lower her defenses and introduce Jackson to his nephew, Kareem. Jackson is ashamed of all the years he missed out on with Kareem, and relieved that his alienation from Paul in no way affect how he feels about Sadia’s son.
Sitting on the house steps one night, Jackson opens up to Sadia, defusing her anger at him, and they share a kiss. But immediately afterward Sadia panics. It is wrong to need Jackson, when he is Paul’s brother. It is wrong to need him, when she could so easily come to depend on his quiet strength.
Wrong to Need You is a touching book. Both hero and heroine are vulnerable—Jackson because as an introvert who likes to cook, he has always been on the outside looking in, as well as due to a painful secret in his past, and Sadia because of Jackson’s seeming desertion, and because she views herself as the underachiever of her family.
Sadia is one of five sisters, and the other four are two doctors and two medical students. Jia, one of Sadia’s younger sisters, needs Sadia’s support with the others to make a career change, but Sadia is stretched so thin and feels so vulnerable to her older sisters’ judgement that sticking up for Jia isn’t easy.
Then there is Jackson’s strained relationship with his mother, Tani—the only person in Rockville who knows the secret he is guarding, or so he thinks. All this made for a poignant, emotional reading experience, and that was before the truth Jackson is hiding is revealed.
Wrong to Need You shares some strengths with Hate to Want You: just as Livvie and Nicholas’s separation was grounded in good reasons, so is Jackson’s decision to keep away. Yearning and sensitivity are well-portrayed in both books. And the upstate New York setting feels real in both books, too.
In some ways, Wrong to Need You is even better than its predecessor—the family saga elements in the overarching series plot are more believable, and there’s a lot less of the on-the-nose psychological dialogue. But it doesn’t have the “tin man” and star-crossed lovers trope that I loved in Hate to Want You.
There’s a welcome realness to the characters in this novel. No one is a superhero, or a superkid. Kareem is a lovely child, but he’s not depicted in a saccharine way. Parenting and holding two jobs, as Sadia does, is portrayed as exhausting. Instead of perfection, the book allows a refreshing messiness to intrude.
There are also plenty of diverse characters; Sadia is Pakistani-American as well as bisexual (though she doesn’t seem to have had any long-term relationships with women), Jackson’s background half-Hawaiian and half-Japanese. A couple of Sadia’s sisters wear hijabs, and there are no stereotypes, or at least I didn’t notice any, in the way Sadia, Jackson, Kareem, and their families are portrayed.
The sex in the book has a BDSM flavor to it, with Sadia taking the dominant role in bed—another refreshing thing. There is also an early make out scene that involves consensual voyeurism. For me only the first of these was truly hot, because there was a lot of stake in terms of Jackson and Sadia’s future interactions at that point in the book. The later sex scenes came after things felt more resolved between them, and were therefore less engaging to me.
One minor—very minor—criticism involves a big spoiler:
I have just one other criticism to make and that’s that although this is technically a standalone, this series has an overarching, family saga-ish plot about the relationship between the Kanes and the Chandlers (I’ve been wondering whether those names are an homage to All My Children). If a reader starts with this book, she’ll be starting from the middle of that part of the storyline. So it’s perhaps not the best starting place for the series, but Wrong to Need You is otherwise a very good read. B+.