Over the past eight months, I have been on a tear reading through Penny Reid’s work. I completed three books in the Winston Brothers, six books plus one novella from Knitting in the City, and three books from the Rugby series. Needless to say, my heart was pounding in my chest when I received Beard In Mind on my Kindle. Beard In Mind is the fourth book in the series and the one that features, Beau Winston, the most popular Winston Brother, and Shelly Sullivan, the tough as ice new mechanic at the shop.
First introduced in Beard Science, Shelly is not what you might call a “people person.” She refuses to shake hands during introductions, does not like her personal space invaded, and will readily walk away from a conversation whether you are finished talking or not. She’s a take or it or leave it kind of gal. And she rubs Beau absolutely the wrong way. He is her opposite. Beau is out-going, friendly, accommodating, and a peace maker. Beau will go out of his way to help someone. He is generous to a fault. They are like oil and water.
Penny Reid unflinchingly writes quirky and unconventional characters, most of whom are a bit socially awkward. She does not make any excuses for them. Instead, she asks us, the reader, to understand them and love them as they are. This is a central theme in Beard in Mind. Beneath Shelly’s prickly surface is a real issue. She is diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – a chronic disorder in which a person has obsessions and does things to avoid or escape the stress of those obsessions. One way it manifests for Shelly is that she cannot initiate touch with people. She feels that something horrible will happen to them if she touches them. These thoughts will consume her until she does something (in the past she cut herself) to relieve the stress. Once Beau learns of Shelly’s illness, he is more than willing to help, but more importantly, he gives himself a chance to get to know her better. He discovers someone who is so beautiful in heart, yet starving for touch: …I was seeing her now, the real her, this starving creature she kept locked up tight. Her body near vibrated with longing, and yet it was as if she pushed and pushed until a blast radius formed around her.
The relationship between Beau and Shelly is not easy. There is so much to learn from both sides. However, it is a beautiful story about going beyond the surface and embracing the unconventional with patience and grace.
Sounds like an amazing book, right? So, imagine my surprise when I finished and I did not feel the elation of reading a good book. Instead, I felt discomfort and dissonance, especially with Shelly’s character. I thought it was odd. I will admit, I am an emotional reader. Was I just not in the right frame of mind to read this book? I put the book down and re-read it a week later and I cried and cried throughout my second read and I realized why. I like to personalize when I read stories. The characters become my friends. However, sometimes when stories hit too close to home, is too personal, I have to give it some distance. I have a dear friend and family member who has a child with severe OCD. The child believes that the sibling is filled with bad germs and refuses to be in the same room, drive in the same car, or breath the same air. At times, the child has compulsions that lead the child to engage in hours of ritualized behavior. It is difficult to go to school or engage in regular activities. Life can be challenging. It is so hard. I understand Quinn’s (Shelly’s brother) deep concern and frustration. More importantly, this book gives me insight into the mind of someone dealing with this mental illness and hope that this child can have a “normal” loving future.
My one small critique is that because this story runs concurrently with Beard Science, there is some repetition that slows the pace for me. Fortunately, there are some poignant moments between the twins as Duane gets ready to move to Europe with Jessica. Penny Reid also gives us some new discoveries with Darrell Winston and the Iron Wraiths club. I am not exactly sure where she is going with it, but I am looking forward to the ride.
Hugs,Tags: 4.5 stars, Beard In Mind, Contemporary, mental illness, OCD, Penny Reid, Sunny, Sunny Review