Evvie Drake Starts Over tells a story of second chances with wit, compassion, and kinetic dialogue. Romantic and moving: an absolute joy to read. Five Stars.

Book Cover: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out. 

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Let’s get this out of the way up front: I adore Linda Holmes.

She is one of my I’ll-read-anything-she-ever-writes critics. She’s incredible talking about things she loves (she just dropped a delicious review of Netflix’s new What/If) and razor-sharp in her pans (I treasure her take-down of Netflix’s Insatiable). Holmes hosts the accurately-named Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast for NPR. While I love all the regular and guest panelists on that show (consistently smart, funny, generous commentary) Linda’s voice is the one that most often makes me point at the air and whisper yesss as she puts her finger exactly on what’s wrong or right about a story. I love her voice, I love her style, I love her pictures of her dog. This woman is my hero.

So, yes, I highlighted every time the book mentioned public radio or podcasts (at least five) or referenced a TV show that Holmes has tweeted about.

I’ve been trying all the podcasts on your list, but I don’t think I can listen to that many. That is a lot of close looks at the simple poetry of making manhole covers and shit.”

Chapter Seventeen, US eARC

But that kind of personal enjoyment is different than actual quality, and I’ve been burned before. I have a similarly warm relationship with Hank Green as a multi-medium creator so I got a kick out of reading his debut novel, but I’ll be the first to admit that it was not a very good book.

Evvie Drake Starts Over is a good book. Thank God.

Despite reading many of her articles, I was still caught off guard that man, Linda Holmes can write. Her prose is free and creative, but always for the sake of truthfulness. She writes what she means, even when she has to create an onomatopeia or use a TV reference to get there.

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The cover and synopsis will make you think this book takes place in Maine. It does not. Maine is a real place, and Evvie Drake lives in a fantasy world–a seaside town of gossips and diners and cereal-box races, infused with pop-culture references and built on personal relationships.

I prefer the US cover, but I do love the season-change motif of the UK cover.

Holmes populates this imaginary world with vividly, messily real people and lets them do what real people do: screw up. Fight. Fall in love. Take care of each other. Talk about things. Not talk about things. Be happy. Be unhappy. Think about little things. Think about huge things.

Holmes lets external circumstances have as little sway as possible in her story. Once things are set in motion, few obstacles or opportunities come from the world outside. They come, instead, from the traps characters have set for themselves. It’s an immensely interior, relationship-driven story. The focus is on Evvie’s journey, and even when there’s turbulence, Evvie stays the pilot.

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It probably sounds like I’m describing a pretty light story. And Evvie Drake Starts Over does feel light most of the time. But it’s worth noting that there’s are some dark edges to the story. In the first couple chapters, we come to understand Evvie’s impossible position as the pitied widow of a beloved doctor that, unbeknownst to anyone else, Evvie was in the process of leaving when she learned he died in a car accident. Their private relationship, which the reader will quickly recognize as emotionally abusive, is drawn with devastating subtlety in Evvie’s scattered recollections.

I could tell after the first few chapters that the book would have to dig into some thorny areas of mental health. Thankfully, it didn’t run away from those topics, but always left them room to breathe. Evvie Drake Starts Over was still a witty, breezy read, even when it was chipping away at my heart.

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It is accurate to describe Evvie Drake Starts Over as a romance, but its important not to overlook a second relationship just as important as the romance. Evvie’s relationship with her long-time best friend Andy is one of my favorite fictional friendships I’ve read in a long time. If you’ve been frustrated by the lack of well-drawn platonic relationships between men and women (that aren’t familial or sassy-gay-bff types), this is what you’re looking for. The book takes seriously how important this kind of relationship is, and honors it with an arc every bit as lovingly, realistically drawn as the romance.

But don’t get me wrong–the romance is there, and it’s sweet, and it’s sexy, and it’s great. Like the rest of the book, it’s built on banter and compassion and actual human connection. And so wonderfully, deliciously consensual.

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She sent him back the emoji with the tense, grimacing mouthful of teeth. The one she always thought of as Mr. Okaaaaay.

Chapter Twenty, US eARC

I’ve already seen some praise for Evvie Drake for “elevating” the chick lit/book club/women’s lit genre, “going beyond” the usual in those categories. And… okay, I guess. It is certainly better than what I’ve come to expect from those categories (though I don’t love the way we categorize those books).

But that praise suggests that somehow Linda Holmes is fighting against the conventions of romance or women’s lit. I don’t think she is. I think the key is that she isn’t afraid of what she’s writing. She embraces writing women’s lit and trusts that her story is enough. It’s enough to write an entire book about the relationships one woman has with her most important friends and family. It’s enough to write a romance, because romance is a great way to dig into the character work she’s doing. She’s not reinventing the genre; she’s digging into its roots, confident that she doesn’t need to add an experimental frame or a deadly twist to keep readers engaged.

A romantic contemporary is enough. Holmes’ delightful, smooth prose is enough. The lovable, human Evvie Drake is enough.

Content warnings for Evvie Drake Starts Over include:

Domestic abuse: primarily emotional, with some physical aggression and abuse
Mental health: depression, PTSD, grief
Sexual content: Fade-to-black sex (consenting unmarried adults)
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