Once upon a time teenage Aurora Evans met a hockey player at the Mall of America. He was from Canada. And soon, he was the perfect fake boyfriend, a get-out-of-jail-free card for all kinds of sticky situations. I can't go to prom. I'm going to be visiting my boyfriend in Canada. He was just what she needed to cover her social awkwardness. He never had to know. It wasn't like she was ever going to see him again...
Years later, Aurora is teaching kids’ dance classes and battling panic and eating disorders—souvenirs from her failed ballet career—when pro hockey player Mike Martin walks in with his daughter. Mike’s honesty about his struggles with widowhood helps Aurora confront some of her own demons, and the two forge an unlikely friendship. There’s just one problem: Mike is the boy she spent years pretending was her “Canadian boyfriend.”
Canadian Boyfriend is one of my favorite books this month. Jenny Holiday has crafted an endearing story with relatable characters (Aurora Evans isn't the only one who had a fake teenage Canadian boyfriend), a slow-burn romance, and a surprising amount of emotional depth. I've read it twice. I loved it the first time, even more the second.
Mike, Aurora, and Olivia earned my affection almost immediately. These three are all navigating rocky emotional waters with varying degrees of success. I appreciated the openness that Holiday implemented when dealing with each of their individual journeys as well as their joint relationship path. The communication between Mike and Aurora was refreshing - aside from that teenage secret - but the important stuff was talked about openly and honestly. I liked that Mike was in therapy and that we were given a glimpse into his therapy sessions. It helped understand him better as he slowly moved forward after his wife's death. (It brought to mind Ted Lasso's sessions with Dr. Sharon Fieldstone. Yes, I'm a fan.)
As for Aurora, dealing with a toxic mother is no picnic. It was heartening to watch Aurora slowly open herself to joys she had been denied by her mother and later denied herself (indoctrination). That Mike and Olivia were part of that growth - and healing - further cemented their growing feelings for one another.
There were many scenes in this book that I could highlight for readers but I think they are best discovered on your own in the course of the story. Do keep your eyes open for the Canadian camping trip, however. It touched me deeply.
There were a few issues that kept this book from being 5 stars for me...but only a few. One, Aurora calls the hero Mike Martin throughout the entire book, even after they are in a committed relationship. Not a problem at the beginning but later on it became annoying, distracting, and flat-out weird. Also, Mike's over-the-top reaction to Aurora in the final chapters felt engineered for a "black moment" rather than organic and left me shaking my head. The pages that followed that, however, were good in that the author gave him time to fully process what had happened and, with help, not only recognize the truth but hold himself accountable for his part in it. It included self-growth (for both Aurora and Mike) that was necessary for a solid HEA. As I said, minor annoyances, but ones that did pull me out of the story. Overall, Canadian Boyfriend was a solid read and one I thoroughly enjoyed.