I’ve been dying for If You Leave to come out ever since finishing If You Stay. I have faith in Courtney Cole’s ability to continuously improve her characters, and Pax was a dreamy bad boy, so even though I could imagine her next character being better than him, I had an inkling it would happen. And, of course, Courtney did not disappoint me.
If You Leave is the sequel to If You Stay, but at the same time it could be read as a stand alone book. It follows Mila’s sister, Madison, and a former Army Ranger named Gabriel. Where as If You Stay was centered around a genuine bad boy with a butt load of angsty issues resulting from a traumatizing childhood, If You Leave is centered around a broken hero traumatized by severe PTSD and a history of violence in his adulthood resulting from war. And the biggest difference in If You Stay and If You Leave, to me, is the fact that yeah, a lot of people can relate to Pax and say, “I know someone who’s broken like Pax was, I know someone who’s turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.” But I think EVERYONE can relate to Gabriel, because I can’t name a person I know that doesn’t know someone who’s in the military, or someone who’s been directly affected by the wars in the Middle East. I know I can relate to him. I have a brother in law in the Army who’s completed a tour in Iraq, and I dated a guy years ago who had a severe case of PTSD resulting from two tours in Iraq. Gabriel hit my heart in all the worst ways, and I spent a good duration of this book sniffling or downright crying because I know what he endures is a reality for so many men and women who have served our country.
That being said, let me go on to actually tell you about the book. Madison has her own dark past, having given up her dreams to continue the dreams of her parents after they die in a freak accident. She’s serious and studious and definitely does things by the book, not by choice, but because she has to. She’s the glue that held her tiny family together through the hard times, so Madison carries a heavy weight on her shoulders. When she tosses caution to the wind while out with a girlfriend one night, and decides to go home with a broody, seriously sexy stranger, it’s safe to say she’s taking a step on the wild side. Unfortunately, the night doesn’t end as anticipated but it does open the door for the drool-worthy Gabriel to enter her life.
These two have a helluva time coming together, and that’s something that I feel Courtney writes so well. There’s nothing in this book that isn’t completely realistic. Every aspect of their relationship, of their friendship turned romance, is completely plausible, which makes this story so palatable. Gabriel goes through a rebirth in this story, starting with his denial of his conditions, his fear of the unknown, his blatant macho manliness (Me big man, big man no talk about feelings. Big man thump on chest and carry tiny woman off to cave,) and his slow discovery that his preconceived notions may have suited his life style in the past, but they do nothing but hinder his future. He falls hard and fast for the lovely Madison, and he slowly comes to the realization that if he doesn’t overcome his past and his nightmares, his future will be sorely lacking. If You Leave is a beautiful story following the series theme of rebirth, and damn it’s poignant. Courtney writes in such a way that you really feel the pain of the characters, as well as their love, passion, and anger through all the phases of the story.
Honestly, I’m dying for the third installation to this series, but I have no idea how Courtney plans to top Gabriel and If You Leave. I know she will, because she does it all the time, each book is progressively better then the one before. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, because everyone can relate to the characters and it’s just that powerful. So go get your copy, now. You can thank me later.