Christa Comes Out of Her Shell by Abbi Waxman


CW: sexual assault (in the past, brief description)

Christa Liddle has led an interesting life. When the book opens, she is studying sea snails on a fictional island in the Indian Ocean. Her mom calls her frantically because her father who ‘died’ in a plane crash 25 years prior has come back to life. A complicating factor is that Christa’s dad is a Steve Irwin-type character – a famous TV conservationist. He also started a toy company called Liddle’s Liddles – a Beanie Baby-type affair. His plane had crashed in the Alaskan wilderness and he was never seen again. At the time Christa was only 2, so his disappearance from her life didn’t make much of a personal impact, but it had a huge impact on her two older sisters and her mom, which in turn affected Christa. She also grew up in the public eye with all the bullshit that that brings. She had found a temporary reprieve on her island with her sea snails, but events pull her back to LA.

The title suggests that Christa needs to come out of her shell but that’s not entirely accurate. If you’re thinking of the common idiom meaning that someone needs to gain confidence and stop being shy, you’d be wrong on that count. Christa is not shy. She’s pretty forthright, but she was absolutely hiding from people and from problems, too. She was hiding from the things she did and had done to her as a teenager in the public eye (think Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears), she was hiding from her big emotions, and she was certainly hiding from her family, with whom she has a loving and complicated relationship. While the romance subplot is quite strong, especially in the last half of the book, I would categorise this book as closer to women’s fiction, due to the importance of the relationships that Christa has with her two sisters and her mom.

First person narration is often a miss for me, but Christa’s wit and personality really shine so it was a pleasure to immerse myself in her thoughts. Within the first few pages, I felt I knew Christa on a bone-deep level. My emotions were deeply invested in this story and it was very easy to empathise with Christa to the point I got angry when her mother would seem to make decisions for her around public appearances.

Back to that romance subplot: it is charming and gentle. Our hero, Nate, very much meets Christa where she’s at. For a brief moment at the start of the book I feared that it would be a love triangle (something I detest) but that is not the case. Christa’s HEA is only possible because of the growing she does as an individual. Nate is a pretty uncomplicated character in this story.

Much of the plot rests on the fact that Christa’s family was famous and their fame rises again with her dad’s reappearance. There are some really interesting reflections on the impact of that level of celebrity, especially because Christa detests being in the public eye, in part because of her terrible experiences.

In the wake of her dad’s disappearance, Christa and her mom went on many TV shows to talk about the conservation foundation and raise funds. Christa, as the youngest, was the most pliable and so was roped into these things. As a teenager, Christa rebelled and the media ate it up. The media got their piece, and fame has only ever had a downside for Christa. For example, her sisters were jealous of the time that Christa and their mom spent together. Not because the sisters wanted to be on TV. They just wanted their mom. There’s a lot to unpack in those relationships. In the wake of her dad’s reappearance, Christa is once again roped into the public eye and as a reader I got to see her navigate it as an adult this time.

I genuinely enjoyed this romance and will definitely be looking out for more Abbi Waxman novels! I devoured this book. It was charming and completely immersive, and after bouncing off many a contemporary romance lately, that is high praise indeed from me.

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