Seventeen-year-old CJ Ainsworth doesn’t drive—not because she can’t, but because she won’t.
She’s been living with the guilt of being the sole survivor of the head-on collision that claimed her mother’s and sister’s lives. It’s the reason she refuses to get behind the wheel. It’s the reason her father has nearly abandoned her. It’s the reason she’s sent to piddle the summer away at her estranged Memaw’s house in Edisto Beach.
All CJ wants to do is isolate herself and make it to the trial at summer’s end, where she’ll testify against the stranger who couldn’t keep his car in its own lane.
She doesn’t expect to fall for a boy, especially not Jett Ramsey, a hotshot racing champion destined for greatness on the NASCAR circuit.
CJ’s resolve crumbles when she loses a bet that puts her squarely in Jett’s
driver’s seat. While he patiently reintroduces her to driving, they confide in each other, and CJ learns she’s not the only one silently suffering through a loss.
As their connection deepens, Jett’s focus on the track is called into question. CJ can’t be the cause of another car crash, but her heart is broken either way. Can CJ learn to put her heart in drive? Or will she throw it in reverse?
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
This book was one of my most anticipated releases, and I was so excited when Brandy sent me an advanced copy to review! Don’t quote me on this, but I think that this might be the first book I’ve read where the sport that the love interest was involved in was racing.
If you’re looking for a sweet, southern, summer read, this one is perfect! While the book tackles some not-so sweet subjects such as tragedy and survivor’s guilt, at its core it’s about love. That being said, it’s made clear that love is only a motivator, and doesn’t fix everything — you have to put in the effort to fix yourself, too.
CJ goes through quite the transformation throughout the book. She starts off as a closed off, sad, angry, and quiet girl, still hurt and reeling from the loss of her mother and sister the year before. Through her relationship with Jett and her friendship with Gin and Bo, we get to see her transform into a strong, happy character. Her heart is always in the right place, and even when she’s making tough decisions that hurt herself and others, she always means well and think she’s doing what is best for them.
CJ and Jett’s relationship is so sweet! Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it a slow-burn, it develops nicely and what feels like realistically. They’re a great match for each other (obviously), and it was interesting to see how Jett’s life outside of CJ was comprised and played out throughout the book. I know it seems like it shouldn’t be a big deal, but one of the moments in the book that I was glad to read was when Jett explicitly asked CJ for consent before they had sex. This book isn’t graphic about it at all, but still it was nice to read it explicitly laid out on the text. You’d be surprised how many books don’t mention it, or some that have even given the impression that asking for consent isn’t important, since you should just know that have come across as extremely problematic to me, so needless to say I commend Brandy for including it! Overall, Jett was such a great guy, and very emotionally intelligent, which make for a great love interest and an even better book.
I would’ve liked to see a bit more character development from one of Jett’s racing teammates, Rachel. I didn’t like her — at all. But I suppose that adds to the realism of the book, since some people just really suck, and we never get to see their redemption arc. Sometimes I think it’s better that way.
Memaw, Gin, and Bo are great additions to the cast of characters. They’re all so nice and supportive, even though some of their personalities couldn’t be more different. CJ’s dad also has a big transformation throughout the book, even though we don’t learn about it until closer to the end.
I also love how detailed the cover is! There are some nods to plot points and a few moments in the book, especially CJ and Jett’s first meeting that I couldn’t appreciate until I finished the book! (I also read it on my Kindle, so I wasn’t staring at the cover all the time.)
Overall, I really enjoyed this read. I’ve been reading a lot of new adult lately, so it was so much fun to jump back into YA! Big thanks to Brandy for the review copy. If you want to read your own, As Much As I Ever Could will be released by Filles Vertes Publishing on May 26!