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Longtime personal assistant Georgie Mulcahy has made a career out of putting others before herself. When an unexpected upheaval sends her away from her hectic job in L.A. and back to her hometown, Georgie must confront an uncomfortable truth: her own wants and needs have always been a disconcertingly blank page.
But then Georgie comes across a forgotten artifact—a “friendfic” diary she wrote as a teenager, filled with possibilities she once imagined. To an overwhelmed Georgie, the diary’s simple, small-scale ideas are a lifeline—a guidebook for getting started on a new path.
Georgie’s plans hit a snag when she comes face to face with an unexpected roommate—Levi Fanning, onetime town troublemaker and current town hermit. But this quiet, grouchy man is more than just his reputation, and he offers to help Georgie with her quest. As the two make their way through her wishlist, Georgie begins to realize that what she truly wants might not be in the pages of her diary after all, but right by her side—if only they can both find a way to let go of the pasts that hold them back.
I don’t read much m/f romance these days, but I’m always up for one of Kate Clayborn’s because they’re so thoughtful and tender and honest. She writes complex, well-drawn characters who are dealing with relatable, real-life problems, and while not ‘flashy’ or full of drama, her books nonetheless pack a real emotional punch. Her newest release, Georgie, All Along seems to be a retread of the ‘protagonist returns to small home-town and finds love and a new direction in life’ trope – and, to an extent, it is – but in Ms. Clayborn’s capable hands the story transcends the trope and becomes something simultaneously deeper and refreshingly different.
Georgie Mulcahy always had a reputation for being a bit flaky and unreliable in her hometown of Darentville, Virginia. She didn’t amount to much at school and never had any real ambitions beyond it; but her ability to live completely in the ‘now’, to adapt and to think on her feet proved to be exactly suited to working as a PA to high-powered (and high-maintenance) intensely creative – and often intensely chaotic – people in the entertainment industry. For the past three years, she’s worked for Nadia, a well-known screenwriter and director, but when Nadia decides – spontaneously – to retire, Georgie is left at a loose end, coming face to face with the fact that she’s never really had a plan for what to do with her life. With Nadia’s suggestion that she can take the time to do “all the things you want to do”, Georgie decides to head back home for a little while, spend some time with her best friend and her family while she works out what she wants to do next.
Arrived in Darentville, Georgie stops at what she remembers as the general store but which she is surprised to find is now somewhat more upmarket than it used to be. In fact, the whole town seems to have undergone a transformation, the slightly shabby place she remembers giving way to new housing and shops and the signs of a flourishing tourism trade. It’s this ‘renewal’ that has drawn her best friend, Bel, back there, to a new life in a new home with her husband and their soon-to-be family (Bel is eight months pregnant). Georgie decides to buy them a couple of strawberry milkshakes – hopefully they’re as good as she remembers – only to be realise she’s left her purse in her car. Embarrassed – she’s only been back in town less than a hour and already she’s living up to people’s memories and expectations of her as a total flake – she’s checking her pockets just in case, when a guy wearing scruffy work clothes and an irritated expression, steps in to pay for the shakes so he can buy his own stuff and be on his way. The guy is pretty dismissive when she says she’ll pay him back; that, and the knowing looks on the face of the other customer – one of her former teachers – only bolsters Georgie’s determination that when she leaves town this time, she’s going to have figured herself out and worked out what she really wants.
One of the things Georgie had banked on was being able to help Bel out in some way – maybe with unpacking or getting the nursery ready – so she’s a bit disappointed to discover that Bel is on top of everything and doesn’t really need her help at all. She brightens a little when Bel takes her to a room full of boxes and bags that she realises contain a lot of stuff from when Bel was younger – and becomes excited when she finds the notebook containing their eighth grade ‘friendfic’, story after story about what they’d do once they got to high school, surprised to discover her teenaged brain teeming with ideas – albeit on a small scale – about her future. She decides to take it home with her – maybe she’ll be able to work out what happened to that girl (who had actual intentions) – and decides that if she can make some of her teenage dreams come true, she’ll be able to get closer to finding a new path for herself.
Georgie’s parents – who are retired – are away on one of their regular road-trips, so Georgie isn’t expecting company when she goes back home, but she’s in the middle of reading through the fic when she hears a key turning in the lock and the familiar creak of the door sticking before it opens to reveal the guy from the store. And his huge, lumbering dog Hank, who barrels right in.
Levi Fanning is the black sheep of his well-to-to family as well as being Darentville’s ‘bad boy’ – despite being in his thirties and the owner of a successful business. He’s also the older brother of Evan, on whom Georgie once had a massive crush, and is clearly as surprised to find Georgie in the house as she is to see him there. It turns out that her dad had offered him the use of the house for a few weeks because his own is having some badly needed repairs done – and had forgotten to tell Georgie about it. As a set up, I admit it feels a bit contrived, but once we meet Georgie’s lovingly chaotic, free-spirited parents, it becomes perfectly plausible.
Georgie and Levi embody certain romance novel stereotypes (she’s the ‘quirky’, ‘flighty’ heroine, who travels with belongings in trash bags in the back of her car and doesn’t have a Plan; he’s a grumpy, shy loner with a troubled past), and one of the things I really enjoyed about the story is the way the author shows that Georgie’s ‘flightiness’ is part of what made her so very good at her job, how her adaptability, intuitiveness and creativity are great strengths. Levi’s backstory emerges slowly, but his bad reputation is down to his going through a more than rebellious phase that continued into young adulthood which has led to his being estranged from his family. In the years since, he’s worked hard to make something of himself and to dispel that old image – but the locals have long memories and he keeps himself pretty much to himself now, keeping his head down, doing his job and kind of creeping around the edges of life, believing he doesn’t deserve anything more. By contrast, Georgie comes from a loving – if somewhat scatty – family, who always loved and supported her, giving her the space to make mistakes and be a mess – but it’s only now that she starts to see that what they were really encouraging her to be was herself.
These two are authentic and honest with one another and are prepared to give each other time and space when they need it. I loved that Levi is able to really see Georgie when others – even those closest to her – aren’t always able to, and that while Georgie always calls Levi on his bullshit she’s never aggressive or unkind. She doesn’t push him for more than he’s comfortable sharing but also makes it clear why she’s calling him out and that she wants to understand and help if she can. They both make mistakes – Levi, in particular, makes some choices I wasn’t happy about – but when they do, they take responsibility for them and do their best to fix them.
This is one of those books where nothing much ‘happens’ but where there’s a lot going on under the surface. The relationships – Georgie and Bel (the revelation as to the origins of the friendfic is just brilliant), Georgie and her parents and, of course, Georgie and Levi – are all beautifully written, and the romance is poignant and charming.
Georgie, All Along is a treat of a read, a wonderful story of love and self discovery to sink into and get lost in.