RITA Reader Challenge Review

Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2016 review was written by Aislinn K. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romance Novella category.

The summary:

Sofronia Wallis knows that proper Black women don’t court trouble by upending the status quo, but it’s 1961 and the Civil Rights movement is in full swing. Sofie’s spent half her life being prim, proper, and reserved—as if that could bring her mother back—but the nonviolent protests happening across the South bring out her inner agitator.

Ivan Friedman has devoted his life to boxing, loving the finesse of a well-delivered punch and the penance of receiving one. His family escaped from Europe before the horrors of WWII, and Ivan decides to help fight injustice in their new country, even if it goes against all his instincts as a fighter.

When Ivan and Sofie meet, they realize that their pasts are intertwined and—with the sparks that fly between them—perhaps their futures will be too. With everything in their society lined up against them, will Sofie and Ivan be able to beat the odds? Or will their chance at love be destroyed by the tumultuous times they live in?

Here is Aislinn K.'s review:

Before reading this, I had only heard good things about this novella. Scratch that – amazing things. So I was prepared to be either blown away or severely disappointed.

Thankfully, it was the former.

This book induces Good Book Noise™ something fierce. It is both deeply harrowing and one of the sweetest books I have read in a long time – and both those aspects are melded seamlessly throughout the story.

The story is set in 1961, and the Civil Rights Movement plays a big part as the backdrop to the love story. Sofia is our heroine; black, beautiful, and fiery beneath her outward pretentions to being a Good Girl. Ivan was her childhood friend. He’s white, Jewish, and the son of the people that used to employ Sofia’s mother as a servant until her untimely death.

That death affected them both strongly, and they hadn’t seen each other since that time until they run into each other at a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee meeting. She’s a student. He’s a boxer. And their childhood bond is even stronger now and laced with a delicious sexual tension.

There is no denying that they face a lot of obstacles as a couple. The people close to them, society at large, legally – there are all kinds of things fighting against them. I think that because of this it was a smart authorial choice to have the two of them have such an irresistible bond from the beginning. If it hadn’t been so immediate, then the obstacles would have been too much and overwhelmed the love story. But because the reader automatically feels how attracted they are to one another and how they instantly get each other and support each other from their first encounter, the barriers they face don’t seem depressingly insurmountable.

This lets the romance develop sweetly. Ivan is pretty close to being a perfect guy, and Sofia has a wonderful character arc, gaining strength and fortitude through her associations with the nonviolent committee and with Ivan.

The writing is lovely. The rhythm of the language felt very much of the time the story is set, without it ever delving into a parody.

Despite the short length of the story, it manages to pack a real emotional punch. I cried twice. You just really want those crazy kids to make it work. And they do. The obstacles don’t magically disappear, but they manage them as best as they can under the circumstances. And they have each other.

My only issue with the story – which is incredibly minor – is in the epilogue.

Show Spoiler
I felt the idea of the two fathers suddenly giving up their prejudices at the first taste of the latkes was just a little much. I’m sure it wasn’t that cut and dried, but the way it was presented made it feel like that solved all their issues with each other and their children’s relationship. Particularly, I think, because all the emotions up until that point had been so hard won and honest, that this just felt too easy. Perhaps if the story had been just a little longer, this could have been smoothed over.

Like I said, a very minor issue in an otherwise excellent story. I wholeheartedly recommend this novella.

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Let It Shine by Alyssa Cole

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Add Your Comment →

  1. I’ve wanted to read this for a while but it’s not available on Kobo. The anthology is, though, so maybe I’ll get around to buying that one day…

  2. Rikki says:

    I bought this on sale and I loved it so much. Everyone should read this. Interracial romance with a Jewish Hero. It was wonderful.

  3. Lammie says:

    I enjoyed this a lot as well. I wished it was longer, because I really wanted to see more of the relationship develop near the end of the story. I don’t want to spoil anything for someone who has not yet read it, but it was very good and I felt cheated that we were told about some things after they had happened- I really wanted more of that part of the story. I will definitely read more by this author.

  4. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for this review, Aislinn K.

    I apologize for shouting, but as a Jew living in the historical heart of the Civil Rights movement, I HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK. I didn’t even hesitate on the “buy now with one click.”

  5. Demi says:

    This review made me happy sigh – I have this on my Kindle and am looking forward to reading it!

  6. Aislinn K says:

    Sara, you are welcome! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

  7. Jennifer in GA says:

    I REALLY enjoyed this. It’s amazing how Cole was able to pack so much into a novella without it feeling crowded or that something was missing. I didn’t have a problem with the epilogue because *if I’m remembering right* a year or two had passed since the end of the actual story. I don’t think it jumped right to everything being a-ok, but I definitely would have LOVED a longer story!

    I enjoyed this book so much that I’ve read more of Cole’s work. I liked Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight a lot. You know an author is talented when she can write about a couple during the US Civil Rights movement AND a book set in Scotland in the 1600s and both are great!

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