We’ve all heard the saying, “The sequel is never as good as the original.” More often than not, it’s unfortunately true. We build up our hopes for something even more amazing than the story or movie which stole our heart. Unfortunately, our fantasies are often too great, and the eventual reality is disappointing. For me, this phenomenon happened with How Not to Let Go by Emily Foster. While I adored its predecessor, How Not to Fall, I was nowhere near as enthralled with the sequel. That’s not to say that How Not to Let Go wasn’t a good book: It just wasn’t as amazing as the first in the series.
How Not to Let Go continues the story of Annabelle and Charles, two lovers who met while she was a student and he was her supervisor. After her graduation, they began a torrid one month affair, ending it when she left for medical school in Massachusetts and he stayed on at his position as a post-doctoral researcher in Indiana. In the sequel, we witness the two trying to cope with their breakup, and after a year has passed, we get to join their journey as they work toward reuniting.
The story jumps back and forth between the US and England where Charles’ family of origin lives. While attending a conference, Annabelle and Charles meet for coffee but choose not to give into sexual temptation. However, when an overly convenient plot device of potential terrorist activity leads to Charles’ brother shutting down the London airports for security reasons, the two lovers spend several days at Charles’ brother’s home having abundant sex once again. Eventually, the two both end up in Massachusetts, and they continue to work through the relationship, its issues, and their individual problems.
I struggled to figure out why this sequel wasn’t as exciting for me as the first book. The process of falling in love is a powerful and wonderful one, and that first love part of Annabelle and Charles’ relationship happened in the first book. There’s no way to recreate that initial passion and romance as a relationship continues. Reunions are hot, and the sex that follows them is also quite intense, but it’s never quite the same as the beginning of a relationship. However, the sex scenes between Annabelle and Charles were still very arousing.
The means that Foster uses to push along the plot of the novel were often a bit too over the top for me. Rich geniuses (more than one in a family!), a trust fund, a potential terrorist attack, a conveniently located gorgeous home… it all just felt less real than the first novel. The more honest parts of the novel, the ones that involved family dynamics or relationship growth, were too few and far between. While often difficult to read because of how toxic the relationships were, the family scenes were the ones that kept my attention and made me want to keep reading. Unfortunately, the great family scenes were surrounded by extensive and detailed rock climbing adventures which became tedious for me.
Foster definitely writes for sapiosexuals, readers who are turned on by intelligence. In How Not to Let Go, though, the use of imagery to describe Charles’ psychological struggles becomes burdensom. Perhaps it is the kind of language and conversation that would happen between two psychiatrists, but for most of us, we don’t create such elaborate illustrations for our personal struggles.
The hardest part for me about the book was probably not due to the author or the book itself but was due to my own life. In the novel, Charles struggles with having an avoidant attachment style due to the dysfunctional family he grew up in. He’s the kind of guy who is commitment phobic as a result of having been hurt too much in the past by those he loved. However, unlike any man I’ve ever known who has an avoidant attachment style, Charles enters intensive psychotherapy to work on healing his wounds. He regularly flies across states to continue seeing the same therapist in person. He is determined to break through the psychological struggles that hold him back from having a healthy and secure attachment to Annabelle. Perhaps I was jealous of Annabelle having found a man who was willing to do this healing work for both himself and for her, but another part of me found it very unrealistic. That left me wondering how one finds a partner who have successfully done this powerful and deep healing work, because the people who have are very rare. Thus, another part of the book felt unrealistic to me, just in a way that made me feel jealous rather than bemused.
I definitely enjoyed reading How Not to Let Go, but it was a less passionate enjoyment than I felt for its predecessor. I have already recommended How Not to Let Go to a friend with an avoidant attachment style, but I probably won’t recommend it to others whom I shared the first book with. That said, I hope Foster plans to continue writing other novels which cater to sapiosexuals, which teach healthy sexual relationships, and which portray realistic sex scenes. The world of romance definitely needs books that fit this niche!
© 2016 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC