Layla | (2024)

From bestselling author Colleen Hoover comes LAYLA, a romantic and poignant novel about mortality and the enduring power of love --- in this world and whatever comes next.

The first thing Leeds Gabriel notices about Layla is her terrible dancing, full of stomps, starts and tumbles. He’s playing in a mediocre band at her sister’s wedding, and bridesmaid Layla is the highlight of the dancefloor. Although she never appears to notice him, the two immediately introduce themselves to one another when the wedding is over, and she reveals that her dancing was an act meant specifically for him. One look at Leeds, and Layla could tell that he was dying inside --- from boredom, from loneliness, from stagnation --- and she did the only thing she could think of to make him smile.

Layla and Leeds spend an amazing night together learning about one another, sharing quips about the wedding and making love. Although the evening has all the makings of a one-night stand, by morning Leeds is convinced that he cannot let Layla get away. Lucky for him, she is equally smitten, and the two agree to stay at the bed and breakfast where the wedding was held for another three days. Fittingly, the B&B is named Corazon del Paisa, the heart of the country. From there they return to Leeds’ hometown near Nashville for what is meant to be a week, then two, then a few months. Needless to say, they are wildly in love, feeling more fulfilled than ever before. Where Leeds is endlessly enraptured by Layla’s weirdness, quirks and ability to live in the moment, Layla is in awe of Leeds’ talent as a musician and the way he makes her feel at home.

"Hoover brings her trademark poignancy and addictive prose to the novel, and the bulk of the plot is based in actual tragedies and genuine emotions enough that even the more fantastical elements feel real."

When Leeds posts a picture of him and Layla to his Instagram, he expects some likes and maybe a few comments, but his 5,000 followers are not usually very reactive --- until they are. Within hours, his account explodes with comments about Layla, calling her a whor*, telling Leeds that he was hotter single and many other troll-tastic statements. It is then that Leeds remembers Sable, his mentally unstable ex whose love for him bordered on obsession. He is preparing to leave for a show when he hears a knock on his door and the sound of Layla opening it, immediately followed by a gunshot.

When we see Layla again, she is mostly recovered but is not herself. Where she once was laughably, endearingly weird and passionate, she is now a shell of herself, fixated on her weight and her discomfort in her body, and pulling away from Leeds day by day. Hoping to draw Layla out of herself, Leeds takes her back to Corazon, which is now vacated and listed for sale. Under the guise of being a prospective buyer, he rents the abandoned B&B for a few weeks, hoping that the return to their starting line will reignite the love they once shared.

But the Corazon they once knew has changed. In addition to feeling vacated and lonely, the B&B seems haunted by a third presence, something not quite harmful, but not quite right either. Following a series of unexplainable events, Leeds finally makes contact with the ghost, Willow. After weeks and months of caring for Layla, answering frantic texts from her family members, and having his career skyrocket for all the wrong reasons, Leeds starts to feel excited about life for the first time. Although his happiness begins with the knowledge that there is more to life than he knew, it quickly starts to blend with his interactions with Willow, until the lines between his feelings for Layla and those for Willow begin to blur dangerously.

Alternating between the present day, in which Leeds is telling the entire story of his life with Layla and Willow to a sort of paranormal investigator and the early days of his love affair with Layla (and his complicated feelings for Willow), Hoover unwinds a complex tale of tragedy, love and guilt. What makes LAYLA such a compelling read is how grounded it is in reality, even though so much of it deals with that which cannot be explained. All the elements of a good paranormal romantic mystery are here, but there’s a lot of heavy emotional work too, including Leeds’ initial sense of loss, the strain that caring for Layla puts on him, and the guilt he feels at wanting something that might not be there anymore.

While Layla initially reads a bit like a manic pixie dream girl, the change in her personality and confidence after the shooting was so stark and so fully realized that I found myself missing her quirks and idiosyncrasies, and seeing how thoroughly real they made her character. But it was Leeds who was the real star of this novel, despite its title. His journey from depressed musician to lovelorn boyfriend to beleaguered caretaker to romantic hero was as riveting as it was satisfying. His emotional conflict carried the plot and made the book an incredibly intense and emotional read.

Although LAYLA deals with the paranormal, I would encourage those who do not typically read this genre to give it a try. Hoover brings her trademark poignancy and addictive prose to the novel, and the bulk of the plot is based in actual tragedies and genuine emotions enough that even the more fantastical elements feel real.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on December 18, 2020

Layla | (2024)
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