In “Never Meant to Meet You,” authors Alli Frank and Asha Youmans tell the story of two women, both of whom are single and both of whom most definitely did not want to be alone. Marjette Lewis relates the tale in first person narrative, so all we learn about her and her neighbor, Noa Abrams, is from her point of view. Marjette is still heartbroken that her marriage broke up five years previously when her husband left her and their son.
Marjette and her husband Booker had started dating in college, and he was the only man she ever had a relationship with. They seemed to share the goal of having a large family; Marjette loves children and had wanted a house full of them. But as she supported her husband through medical school and his residency, he never agreed that the time was right to start their family. She did get pregnant once, and her son Darius is her pride and joy. But when Booker leaves them, he’s barely in Darius’s life. And Marjette can’t stop blaming Booker for ruining her life’s desire—to have a family filled with children. She’s bitter and can’t let go of her anger.
When a new family moved in next door to Marjette, she was determined to not befriend them. There had been an unfortunate incident with the former resident of that house, and she doesn’t want to take the chance of a repeat of that situation. She has enough on her plate with her job as a kindergarten teacher and raising her teenage son and keeping him out of trouble. But when the neighbor’s husband dies, Marjette’s sympathy convinces her to help the hapless new widow. And when Noa’s daughter, Etsy, is in Marjette’s kindergarten class, they see more of each other.
In fact, it’s not just Noa whom Marjette sees; Noa’s brother is also present and part of the family. He picks Etsy up from school and goes on field trips. Max Kopelman, the uncle, is handsome and single, and many of the single mothers at school are very aware of how eligible he is. So is Marjette. Max studied baking in Paris and just opened a bakery. Marjette loves to cook and enjoys making the recipes handed down by family. When he tastes her fried chicken at the shiva for Noa’s husband, it’s definitely the start of something.
While this is not “just” a romance, there is plenty of romance in the novel. But it’s really a story of friendship, love, and loss. It’s about forgiveness and being open to others. It’s about how family is not just the people who share your blood, but those who share your love. And I love how the authors demonstrate the similarities between Blacks and Jews, that we are both members of groups who were and still are persecuted. The fascists despise us all equally, no matter the color of our skin. The Nazis in Charlottesville chanted, “Jews will not replace us,” the classic anti-semitic rallying cry. The hate survives — no matter how religious or, as the authors say, “Jew-ish” we are.
And that’s another point that I loved—the statement made that while we might be Baptist or Jewish, we don’t have to follow all the rules and we can celebrate our Jew-ishness in whatever manner we want. The pages are not just filled with thoughts of revenge against cheating husbands and failed marriages, but also with plenty of laughter and lots of yummy food. It’s a feast not just for the heart, but also for the soul and even the tummy. They include in the story a few recipes for dishes that seem mouthwateringly delicious.
The writing and some of the teacher-based action reminds me, in a lovely way, of the writing in the beloved series, “Must Love Dogs” by Claire Cook. We see how teachers attempt to balance school life with private life and how difficult that can be when living near one’s place of work. And we are reminded of how delightful children and their innocent comments can be. This novel will leave you with a smile on your face. I’m still smiling.
Please note: This review is based on the final, paperback book provided by Montlake, the publisher, for review purposes.