ARC Review: Lead Me Not by A. Meredith Walters

Pub. Date: August 5th, 2014
Publisher: Gallery Books
288 pages

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Aubrey Duncan understands loss. She knows what rock bottom looks like, and she is determined to crawl back up to the top after the sudden death of her younger sister. She blames herself for her part in the tragedy, convinced that she could have done something, anything, to help her.

In her effort to gain redemption, Aubrey starts fresh at Longwood University and facilitates an addiction support group, hoping she can support someone else in the way she failed her sister. But what she doesn’t count on is an all-consuming fascination with group member Maxx Demelo, a gorgeous, blond, blue-eyed enigma who hides dark secrets behind a carefully constructed mask. He only reveals what he wants others to see. But Aubrey glimpses another Maxx hidden below the surface—a Maxx who is drowning in his own personal hell.

As Aubrey and Maxx develop an attraction too intense to ignore, he pulls her into the dark underbelly of the city club scene, where she is torn by her desire to save him and an inexplicable urge to join him in his downward spiral. Worst of all, she is beginning to love everything she should run away from—a man who threatens to ignite in her a fire that could burn her alive…

Whenever I read a book with characters I feel are intentionally imperfect and not entirely likeable, I want to give the author kudos for bravery. So, A. Meredith Walters, kudos. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that as a reader I want to root for characters. I want to connect with them. I want to like them. I don’t like not liking the characters I invest my time learning about. But, this was one of those rare books where I disliked the characters and disagreed with just about every choice the they made, but I was kept enthralled by the story, desperate to know how it was all going to end.

What I really liked about the novel was it shows everyone is fallible.  Aubrey knows how quickly addiction can take over, and take, a person’s life. She saw it first hand when her sister overdosed. Yet initially Aubrey is pretty judgmental towards people with addictions, especially her roommate Renee’s addiction to her abusive boyfriend.
As a reader I got the impression that she felt above being susceptible to the allure of addiction. I appreciated how Aubrey saw secondhand both a substance and emotional addiction, before her own vulnerability to addiction is tested when she meets Maxx. It showed that we might think we understand, or we may think something like this could never happen to us, but until that is tested, we truly have no idea.

I felt the juxtaposition of two very different yet similar struggles with addiction was really well done. There was a level of sympathy I initially felt innately towards Maxx because of how out of control his addiction had become – even though he thought he was completely in control – which I just didn’t feel for Aubrey. I didn’t feel Aubrey the same kind of compassion or understanding because I felt Aubrey knowingly walked into trouble by becoming involved with a participant in the counseling group she was facilitating. I felt she was smart enough to know better. Then I realized I was judging Aubrey in the exact same way Aubrey judged Renee, and I realized how well Walters weaved together the seriousness, and all encompassing nature of addiction, no matter the type.

I’m not going to say I enjoyed the reading experience because enjoyed just doesn’t seem like the right word, but I will say it was a very powerful read that made me think, and made me feel. I felt so actively involved in the story while reading that there were moments I literally started yelling at the characters, and times I covered my face in frustration and fear over their actions. This was the first book I've read by Walters, but it won't be the last. Definitely recommended.

Rating 4/5

*** I received a copy of the novel from the publisher to read and honestly review. I was in no way compensated. 

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