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Kayleigh Jacobs is a young, impressionable freshman. Holden Rivers is her roommate’s hot, frat-boy boyfriend. Kayleigh can’t stand Holden’s arrogance, so she is none too pleased when she is paired with him for a school project. Consequently, during this project Kayleigh begins to see a new side to Holden. She even begins to like him a little bit. But when Holden finds out about Kayleigh’s eating disorder, that “like” turns into a wild-swinging pendulum of love and hate.
On the one hand, I was compelled to root for the protagonist because of her struggle with her eating disorder. At times, I even wanted the friends-with-benefits/ romance/ friendship between Kayleigh and Holden to work. But when I finished reading and took a step back, I realized that I hadn’t developed a significant emotional connection with the Kayleigh or Holden characters.
Most of the plot is dedicated to social drama and betrayals instead of the development of the romance between the two main characters. Page after page blurs the distinction of Kayleigh and Holden’s relationship as we are introduced to more characters and more conflict. This adds drama and suspense, but takes away from time that could have been devoted to solidifying the romance. Sleepless November does not appear to have been written to be a stand-alone piece, and acts more as a running prologue to the rest of the saga. However, this also works in Clayton’s favor because it initiates interest in reading the second book of the Sleepless November Saga to see how Kayleigh and Holden’s relationship develops or falls to pieces.
The accurate portrayal of anxiety Clayton creates throughout the story, earned Sleepless November a rating of 3 out of 5 stars. I also commend Clayton for expanding the “protagonist has low self-esteem and body image issues” cliché to encompass the severe dilemma of eating disorders and addiction. Clayton also does not have her protagonist’s romantic interest miraculously save her (as we see too often in the “damsel in distress” trope). Some of my favorite passages in the story are those where Holden stumbles and amends his strategies to help Kayleigh. In this way, Sleepless November presents a pleasantly realistic representation of the savior dynamic.
Clayton explained that she initially started writing Sleepless November to escape her everyday life, which might excuse some of the deficiencies that I perceived in the book. Clayton has written the rest of the Sleepless November Saga, and I am intrigued to see where the story goes from here.