Forgiveness, growth, and second chances in Sarah Hogle’s ‘Twice Shy’
Reading Sarah Hogle's Twice Shy (GP Putnam's Sons, 2021) is like biting into the cool freshness of summer fruits in the scorching Bangladeshi heat. Sweet and tangy, the book fills your heart with the pangs that come with a delightful enemies-to-lovers plot. This delectable slow-burning romance is so redolent with gentleness, wit, and endearing plot points that it will shoot sparks of light into your imagination even after you have turned the last page. It is topped with the most adorable gentleman of a hero and attempts to take you to a place blissfully sweet, where happy endings are the only possibility; the kind of book you could devour in one sitting. But instead you take your time with it, to absorb each chapter, because the thought of parting with it is bittersweet.
A feel-good book through and through, Twice Shy is the archetypical romantic comedy. The entire story is told—in engaging and hilarious prose—from the point of view of protagonist Maybell Parrish, a dreamer and complete social failure, or so she makes of herself. Maybell has spent most of her childhood and adult life feeling like she has ruined her mother's dreams, simply by existing. Stuck in an unfulfilling job, with abusive coworkers and friends, she escapes reality often by disappearing into the safe haven built inside her mind. In this imaginary world, life is perfect and Maybell has it all: she has a stable job, amazing talent, a doting partner, a handful of loyal friends—all that eludes her in reality. Underappreciated and overwhelmed, it is only when Maybell learns that she has inherited her late aunt's mansion, a dream house from her childhood, that she starts believing in luck. Soon, however, she learns, with a sinking heart, that she is not its sole inheritor. Wesley Koehler, the groundskeeper for her late aunt, and the most insufferable man Maybell will meet, is an equal owner to the property. Now, she must find a way to reason with this irritable man who is bent on wrecking her plans for his own.
As is the law of romantic comedies, Twice Shy dishes out some over-exaggerated plot points; however, in this case they ultimately add to the progression of the story. The most real element of the novel is the ensemble of complex, thoroughly multifaceted and flawed characters that Hogle has created for her story. Getting to know Maybell through her internal monologues is so much fun. She is relatable, funny, and a total riot altogether. She is a non-confrontational, accommodating, gullible 30 year-old woman, who often tends to fade into her own background. She is also resilient, determined, and delusional to the point of foolishness—a quality that keeps her moving forward in life. "Being delusional is our downfall but it's also our saving grace: we're deluded enough that we don't see why tomorrow shouldn't be better, even if the last thousand days in a row have been bad."
Both Maybell and Wesley mask their vulnerabilities under their adult exteriors. They each have certain perceptions of what a fully functional, successful adult should be like, but struggle to attain those qualities for themselves. Maybell laments: "It's rough when you have a nature that begs you to avoid heartache at all costs but also makes you wear your heart on your sleeve." The writer does a remarkable job of handling each character's growth with great care. It is particularly admirable how Hogle handles delicate issues like social anxiety and panic attacks with such gentleness and respect. Twice Shy is about accepting your vulnerabilities and taking charge of your own destiny. It is about forgiveness, growth, and giving love a second chance.
Sameirah Nasrin Ahsan is a mechanical engineer in Dhaka. She aspires to be an author someday. For now, she is content with reading and sharing the stories that make her think beyond herself. Instagram: @booksnher