by Tristen Herrera
Westwood Books Publishing

"Is it fate or is it by choice?"

Victoria Lockhart, the new mathematics teacher at the local high school, is intrigued by one of her students, Karma Aoi. He’s incredibly smart but with a dark, traumatic past, and she finds herself cautious of him as her daughter, Luka, begins to show interest. Yet Victoria and her daughter’s lives are becoming more intertwined with Karma’s as they continue to befriend him, soon learning more about his past, his emotional state, his family life, and even the many hats Karma wears to survive in life. Will there be a happy ending for the Lockharts? Will Karma figure out how to navigate his feelings without burning others?

The book follows the tenants of your standard romance novel: a chance encounter, a mysterious “bad boy” type, bubbling feelings, dramatic tension, etc. But it actually starts out in a rather suspenseful way, only introducing the more romantic elements towards the middle and end of the book. The reader’s introduction to Karma is through Victoria, a teacher, so there’s no initial sense of a cute first meeting happening until later when Luka first interacts with Karma. The story leans heavily on action, as exhibited in the chapters dealing with Karma and his boxing matches, as well as family tension and relationships, whether through exploring Karma’s relationships or the mother-daughter relationship of the Lockharts. When the love plot is introduced, it doesn’t just follow the path of Karma and Luka’s romance but also plays with Victoria and Branton’s relationship, as well, further emphasizing a sort of familial connection that Karma seems to be lacking.

As the driving force in this book, Karma is an intriguing character. He lives a double-life (or in some instances, a triple-life) as a grade-A student, a businessman, and a cop; and that’s before including his gig as a boxer. All these high-stress responsibilities make Karma seem mature, to the point that sometimes the reader forgets he’s a high school student. They add to his mystery and appeal, but at times it seems rather unrealistic. The author, however, does a great job at exhibiting and describing Karma’s emotional growth as the book progresses, from closed-off and tormented in the beginning, to accepting of love at the end. Karma’s emotional needs are rooted in his family upbringing and trauma, and readers can see how damaging it is for him as a character to bottle them up. Branton, the boxing coach/employer and somewhat paternal figure in Karma’s life, acts as a translator for Karma’s expressions and is useful for helping Victoria and Luka understand the young man.

Most people are familiar with the notion of karma, that what goes around comes around. In Hinduism and Buddhism, it’s the belief that the sum of a person’s actions in their previous existences will determine their fate in future existences. So, it’s an interesting choice to name the main character and love interest Karma. He does not dole out punishments or rewards, but in many of his encounters chides or makes remarks towards others about their behaviors and consequences, hinting at his namesake.

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