“According to one of the tiny maps, there were only five major highways in Alaska. I couldn’t get lost.” – – – famous last words from Kennedy Wells
Celebrity journalist Kennedy Wells’ ends up in Anchorage, Alaska after her magazine editor sends her out to write a cover article on a new reality show. The idea smells like rotten fish, but Kennedy won’t give up a shot at regaining her former beat rubbing elbows with performers and the famous-for being-famous.
Much of the novel’s humor plays off Kennedy’s unfamiliarity with Anchorage’s great outdoors. She’s more at home on the bustling city streets of LA, dining on catered cuisine and dashing off to her next interview in designer heels. A near-disaster on her first day exploring the area’s scenic byways requires calling in the rescue squad— in this case, a strapping butch park ranger named Brynn Coleman.
Alaska’s Wildlife Rescue and Sanctuary, located outside Anchorage, provides refuge for more than just injured animals. As its director, Brynn finds peace within its lands and her mission to help rehabilitate creatures that cannot take care of themselves. Wally the racoon is a surprisingly endearing character, though readers-as-Kennedy are informed that wild animals, no matter how friendly, are still wild animals.
The two women cross paths as Kennedy finds herself in the thick of misadventure time and again. As the journalist discovers the appeal of her new environs, she also comes face to face with firmly entrenched body image issues, commitment aversion, and an unexpected career crossroads. One of the main issues at play is how much Kennedy and Brynn, who harbors a closely guarded past, are willing to confront within themselves before they can discover a deeper fulfillment. A small cadre of queer friends (including a local librarian) and colleagues ground the women throughout the story and give Alaska a small town feel, despite the nearly 740,000 population of Anchorage.
Overall, Breakthrough is delivers satisfying romance, amusing adventures, and a surprising, thrilling change of pace in the latter half of the story. The novel’s primary drawback is rooted in telling rather than showing the reader what is happening. There are times when a character’s thoughts are repeated aloud after she thinks them. Recommended for fans of “fish out of water” stories, femme/butch pairings, Great Outdoors immersion, and the television series Northern Exposure.