Published by William Morrow on June 7, 2016
Source: the publisher
Buy from Amazon|Buy from Barnes & Noble|Buy from Book Depository
From the New York Times bestselling author of Beach Colors and Breakwater Bay comes this heartwarming story of love, family, and redemption. Two young girls pledged to be best friends forever. Separated by circumstance and hurt, they are reunited years later as they struggle to put their differences aside for the sake of a special little girl—perfect for fans of Elin Hilderbrand, Jane Green, and Kristin Hannah.
One little girl…
Can they forgive the past in order to ensure the future of an innocent child…?
Once a foster child herself, Sarah Hargreave can’t wait to finalize the adoption of her foster daughter Leila. Sarah longs to give her all the love and stability she was denied in her own childhood. She’s put her own friendships and even her relationship with Wyatt, her longtime lover, on hold in order to give Leila her full attention.
When Leila’s biological mother suddenly reappears and petitions the court for the return of her daughter, Sarah is terrified she’ll lose the little girl she’s come to love as her own. Convinced the mother is still addicted to drugs, Sarah and her social worker enlist the help of high profile family lawyer, Ilona Cartwright. But when they meet, Sarah recognizes her as Nonie Blanchard who grew up in the same group foster home as Sarah. They’d promised to be best friends forever, then Nonie was adopted by a wealthy family, and Sarah never heard from her again. Sarah still hurts from the betrayal. But Nonie harbors her own resentment toward Sarah who she believes abandoned her when she needed her most.
Mistrustful of each other, the two women form a tenuous alliance to ensure Leila’s future, but when Leila’s very survival is on the line, they’ll have to come to terms with their own feelings of hurt and rejection to save the child they both have come to love.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
When I picked this book up, I thought it was going to be a light beach read based on this cover! It was clear within the first few pages of the book that there was much more story within these pages than a light beach read. And that’s okay, because I like stories that have some meat to them.
Forever Beach by Shelley Noble is the story of Sarah and Leila. Leila has been fostered by Sarah for a while now, several years, and is going through the adoption process. Leila’s birth mother had seven children and a history of drug abuse and abusing her children, so they were all removed from her care. There have been multiple instances in which Leila has been through visitation with her birth mother, all resulting in regressive behavior and really, just trauma to Leila. (All of this happened prior to the start of the book.) As a child that aged out of “the system” herself, Sarah wants nothing more than to adopt Leila and give her a steady, loving home where she can feel peace and safety.
In the first few pages of the book, we find that Leila is waiting not-so-patiently for the papers that let her know that the adoption is drawing near to finalization, but instead the papers that come through the mail indicate that the birth mother has come off of drugs, has gotten safe housing, and is requesting reunification with Leila.
Sarah is heartbroken. And outraged. And scared for Leila. She’s seen this before – the regressive behavior, etc – but she’s also torn. Isn’t reunification with the birth mother the best thing for families? Isn’t that the ultimate goal? But she was so close to adopting this sweet girl that she loves so much! SO CLOSE. How should she feel? What should she do?
Lucky for Sarah, one of her best friends work with Child Protection – Reesa – and is able to give good insight. She immediately begins to make some phonecalls but BOOM – things actually get a little crazier before they begin to get better.
I’ve never really read a book that is this extensively about adoption/fostering. So this was, I think, an eye-opening story for me. The story is mostly from Sarah’s perspective, so I was able to get the glimpse of everything from the eye of the adoptive mother’s view, and her interest was that of Leila’s best care. I enjoyed this book, but it was intense at times.
This cast of characters was a good one, and they all brought to the story their own set of circumstances – too extensive to list out for a short review, but for example: Sarah had baggage from her childhood that she brought into her adulthood, and this affected how she raised Leila. Not necessarily in a bad way, but I think she definitely over-stressed herself. Thankfully, she had great friends to help her through the trials of fostering/adopting (because she did not have any family, you see). She needed their constant reminder that they were there for her, they were there for her, they were there for her. She sometimes sabotaged their efforts whether she meant to or not, because she was not used to so much unconditional help and kindness and love. This carried forth into the romantic relationship she had with Wyatt also, which I’ll talk about more in just a bit.
Sarah’s friends were great. Reesa worked with the local social services as a social worker (she was GREAT at her job) which meant that she had a small amount of sway or push with getting information when Sarah needed it regarding Leila’s case. But not too much. The thing with Reesa was that 1) she was incredibly burned out by the horrific cases she has had to deal with over approximately twenty years on the job and 2) her marriage was really stressful for her at the moment. Her portions of the story were captivating to me! I like her so much – great heart, great friend – but she has a lot going on. She could really have an entire book about her own life. Sarah’s other friend Karen – great mother, great marriage, upbeat attitude – just great. I liked them both and the three friends together – great friendships, which I love in a book. I love the support that they all three gave one another, and I like that their significant others were included as well, in whatever capacity they were able to be/were needed.
As far as romance goes, Sarah has a thing for Wyatt, but she doesn’t want to commit until she knows for sure how things will play out with Leila. This is a good thing and a bad thing. She brings Wyatt around for a while, and then when things with Leila heat up (when there are visitations and Leila regresses, etc), she pushes Wyatt away. There is a point at which Sarah has to make a decision about Wyatt because either he won’t wait forever or he will declare his true feelings or someone will snatch him up – or all three of these! I love the way that the romance was more of a side-plot and never the main focus of this story. Wyatt was a great character throughout the story, but the romance portion of the plot was just never the main focus. YES TO THIS! And I absolutely adored the relationship that Wyatt had with Leila.
The big elephant in the room for me is Ilona Cartwright, Leila’s attorney. Ilona Cartwright IS Nonie Blanchard, who used to be Sarah’s roommate in their group home when they were children. The two loved each other so fiercely when they were children that they called one another sisters and pledged to write each other weekly when Nonie was adopted and Sarah was not. But the writing never happened for some reason, and the two never forgave one another when their friendship/sisterhood was not maintained. THIS is there I had a teensy bit of trouble.
Ilona was a bit of a character. When she was first introduced, I liked her! I thought she would come in with her high-profile self and help Sarah out with Leila’s best interests at heart. But the more we get to know Ilona, the more I grew to dislike her because of her misplaced motivations…
The Ilona/Sarah portion of the plot takes up a large chunk of the story, and I understand this because it shaped so much of both Ilona’s life and Sarah’s life. But with Leila’s little life in the balance, and with her birth mother such a danger to her in the past and threatening her future, it drove me bananas waiting around for so much drama to unfold between these two. So really, if I could change anything about this book, it would be something about the Ilona/Sarah story arc – I’m not sure what – but I can’t really put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. Other readers may love it the way that it is (because there is great resolution!) but I felt like I was about to have a heart attack while I was waiting to see if Leila would be okay, and it largely had to do with two grown women acting like children.
Ultimately, I liked this book a lot. This was my first book by Shelley Noble and I like that it had a beach setting and that the characters visited the beach often. I’d like to read more by Ms. Noble. I recommend Forever Beach by Shelley Noble to readers that enjoy good contemporary fiction and also to readers that are seeking out stories about adoption and/or fostering, because I do come across those readers from time to time.