Karina May – Never ever forever

Published by Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia P/L Australia, 2023
Cover design Debra Billson
Cover images Shutterstock

Karina May’s second romance novel (following her debut Duck a l’Orange for Breakfast) ticks all the boxes for rusted on fans of the genre – a youthful heroine in search of herself and love, an old flame, a new flame, exotic places, a grand mansion, female friends, a touch of fashion, chiselled jaws and bare chests, sexual tension and a little bit of actual sex, conflicts, conflicts resolved and a happy ending.

Karina May talks to Barbie about Never ever forever

However, the greatest pleasure for me in reading this book was the author’s clever characterisation of her main character, Rosie, who springs immediately to life on the page. Then there is the multiplicity of social issues skimming along under the romance story line.

Not that there is anything wrong with enjoying the romance, just as there is nothing wrong with the escapism of crime fiction. It’s just that for me the contextualising of it makes it so much better.

Rosie Royce comes to us 10 years after being abandoned by Wes, her childhood sweetheart and best friend. She’s on the seemingly endless round of online dating, swiping left and right, meeting up with one after another unsatisfactory chap – never, evers. Her friends Ange and Penny despair of her ever finding Mr Right.

She’s looking for something else. She isn’t interested in being controlled and disregarded. She wants to be listened to, respected for all her capacities. She doesn’t want to feel pressured by societal expectation or the urging of well meaning friends to dress herself in a glammed up disguise.

Rosie’s preference is for a self in jeans and Converse sneakers and it is a long learning experience through this book for her to discover that this is fine.

Being happy with herself and honouring who she is forms a crucial part of her ‘growing up before our eyes’ process. Much of the story works within this theme of the disconnect between surface and substance.

A manifestation of it this in the move from city to country. Rosie has blotted her copy book in her big city marketing job by going off piste at a major presentation and has, to her surprise, been snapped up by a local radio station in Mudgee. The tree change is not without challenge, but she finds her straps in radio, enjoying the freedom to be herself and speak frankly about issues she cares about. And she feels cared for by those she works with.

When celebrity TV vet Dr Markus Abrahams is foisted upon her as a co-presenter she is automatically anti, having had a brief brush with him in the local bar. But this is romance fiction and we all know where that is going.

Rosie is asked to go along as an assistant in a filming gig, on a trip to India to the elephant sanctuary Markus funds A number of things come together in this section of the story, some of which we’ll keep quiet about for fear of spoiling the surprises for readers. Notably though, Rosie overcomes her fear of travel and gains new respect for herself (eventually) when she copes with a string of shocks and mishaps.

Throughout the story, it is Rosie’s relationship with her Dad that sustains her. They have shared experience of abandonment – her mother left when Rosie was a child, but Dad has remained a stalwart and supportive parent.

His re-partnering with Naomi is a glimmer of hope for Rosie that things can change and move on and that happiness can still be found after disappointment and disillusion. Forgiveness is a vital ingredient. Listening to the whole story is another.

This issue of family dynamics is repeated in other story strands, as is the notion of secrets and lies. The importance of trust and of respectful relationships plays out in several of the character vignettes, including that of the ebullient Cedric (Rosie’s radio boss) and his partner Simon and indeed with Rosie’s two female friends.

Noteworthy too is the author’s introduction of Wiradjuri man Jack, whom Rosie meets early in her time in Mudgee but who she later discovers is more than meets the eye. Not only do we learn of the long connection to country and the importance of this, but there again is that core message of looking beyond the superficial in judging others and ourselves.

Never ever forever is a thoroughly readable novel with the joint escapist pleasures of romance and thought-provoking themes relevant to us all.

Karina May writes with an easy facility and an astute capacity to draw her readers in and make them care about the lives of her book people. This is confident and assured writing and I look forward to more.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for my review copy and to Karina for such an interesting conversation about romance writing and the many issues raised in this book.