Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

18964920My love for Liza Palmer is clearly documented on this blog, but I think this is my favorite book since Seeing Me Naked. At first I wasn’t on board with the concept — an ad exec trying to get an account ends up at “RomanceCon,” a convention for romance novel enthusiasts — dismissing the genre much like our protagonist, Anna Wyatt.

But on page 30, Liza Palmer writes a paragraph that just hit me straight in the chest and made me tear up a bit:

What do I want?

I want to be happy and not feel guilty about it. I want to be curious without being called indulgent. I want to be accepted regardless of what I look like, what I do for a living, my marital status, whether I have kids, or whether you think I’m nice enough, hospitable enough, or humble enough to measure up to your impossible standards. I want purpose. I want contentment. I want to be loved and give love unreservedly in return. I want to be seen. I want to matter. I want freedom.

From then on, I was IN. I loved Anna and Sasha’s relationship, from colleagues to friends to business partners, working toward a common goal and something they themselves want to believe in. It seems hard to believe that their “Just Be.” campaign would be as wildly successful as it appears to be – we’re just too cynical these days – but maybe it hit women the way this book hit me. Anna comes to a revelation toward the end of the book that just had me wanting to high five her and got me right where I live. And when things start to just turn around and happen for her, I was nearly crying in the laundromat.

There’s family stuff in this book that I can’t relate to since my parents love me to within an inch of my life (which is not a criticism – hi Mom & Dad!), but it also felt so visceral and real that it was hard not to get sucked in. Anna also comes to a realization about this relationship that felt fresh and new. I also admired her ability to just cry once she left Phoenix. There’s bravery there.

And of course, there’s a man, but it’s not even about him. He’s handsome and British and maybe an earl, but mostly just Anna’s person, a little bit broken and little too real, found in a Phoenix hotel bar. I’ve never been one for the hotel bar, but Anna Wyatt makes me think that it’s the place to be.

The best part about the romance and the whole book is that Anna Wyatt turns 40 at the start of the book and there’s no desperation. She wants to fall in love, do well at work, find better friends, pull her family together, but there’s none of the “OMG I’M 40 AND ALONE” crap that I see in books about 30 year olds, much less 40 year olds. Maybe it’s my milestone birthday approaching, but it’s so great to see a female protagonist, who gets that birthdays are just another trip around the sun and a way to mark time. There’s so much better drama than the search for a man before we shrivel up and die.

But my favorite bit comes toward the end of the book because it fits me to a T in an uncomfortable way:

Just…why can’t I just sit here and drink this tea and bask? Smile. Let the joy wash over me.

I always love watching that part of the Olympics when the athletes are on the podium, medals around their necks, and the first notes of their national anthem are played as their flag ascends into the heavens. Everything they’ve done has led up to this moment. And to watch them run through the gamut of emotions, tears, a smile, taking in the crowd, trying to sing along with the song, disbelief, and then this panic that the moment – the moment is almost over and have I felt it enough, have I properly chronicled every second of it so that I can relive it…and the song ends and the athletes come out of the haze and just wave their hands over their heads in thanks.

The power of a moment. To just allow it to happen. Experience it firsthand. I guess with all my theories on fishhooks and the wisdom of age, that one still eludes me.