By: Colleen Oakley
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: 3/7/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars From the author of Before I Go comes an unconventional but beautiful love story perfect for fans of the emotional novels of Jodi Picoult and Jojo Moyes. One time a boy kissed me and I almost died... And so begins the story of Jubilee Jenkins, a young woman with a rare and debilitating medical condition: she’s allergic to other humans. After a humiliating near-death experience in high school, Jubilee has become a recluse, living the past nine years in the confines of the small town New Jersey house her unaffectionate mother left to her when she ran off with a Long Island businessman. But now, her mother is dead, and without her financial support, Jubilee is forced to leave home and face the world—and the people in it—that she’s been hiding from. One of those people is Eric Keegan, a man who just moved into town for work. With a daughter from his failed marriage who is no longer speaking to him, and a brilliant, if psychologically troubled, adopted son, Eric’s struggling to figure out how his life got so off-course, and how to be the dad—and man—he wants so desperately to be. Then, one day, he meets a mysterious woman named Jubilee, with a unique condition... An evocative, poignant, and heartrending exploration of the power and possibilities of the human heart.
Talented storyteller, Colleen Oakley returns following her smashing debut, Before I Go (2015) with her latest poignant love story, CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH – full of emotion, readers will laugh and cry and fall in love with the memorable characters. “ . . . Love is messy. It doesn’t come to us in a perfect box all wrapped up in a bow. It’s more like a gift from a child, crayon-scrawled and crumpled. Imperfect. But always a gift just the same.” Jubilee Jenkins did not wake up one morning and think she was going to become a recluse. She is allergic to other people. Born in 1989 to a single mother, she was the typical infant, and it wasn’t until she was three the issues began. Starting with hives and welts to hospital emergency room visits, and advancing to an EpiPen and anaphylaxis. The physicians were perplexed. When she was six years old, she was diagnosed with type IV contact dermatitis to foreign human skin cells. She is allergic to other people. The only one of a handful of people in the history of the world with the same condition. Rare. She explodes in welts and hives when someone else’s skin touches hers. Anaphylaxis, if she came into oral contact with another human (kissing). She almost died. A boy kissed her. The tongue swelled and throat closed. Then three months later her mom married Lenny a gas station owner, packed a bag, and left. Sending checks, Jubilee has not left her home in nine years. She felt like a freak. Making do with ordering her food and receiving her education sitting at home online. Her worst nightmare. Her mom dies, now she is forced to leave her home in order, to support herself. She is terrified. She needs money. She must find a job. How will she leave her home and remain safe? She finds work at the library and meets Eric Keegan. Eric is divorced and having a problem communicating with his children. An estranged teenage daughter, Ellie and adopted son Aja. Jubilee will soon become connected with this family in so many ways, on so many levels. Will she ever be able to have a normal human contact relationship? An experimental cure? Would it be too much to hope for? Can she fall in love for the first time at age 28? What a delightful story and what a fabulous front cover! Can you imagine a life without touch? Three wounded souls connect in unexpected ways.
From Oakley’s debut and her background before becoming a novelist — a health journalist, having written a few articles about allergies, among many other topics, I love her insights and interest in the medical field, which is always intriguing to me since I read everything I can get my hands on and continued research when it comes to allergies. She integrates newsworthy topics into modern contemporary family lives, allowing her characters to come alive on the pages. Interesting, absorbing, and compelling. Plus enjoy her writing style. For fans of Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty, Lisa Genova, Diane Chamberlain, and Jo Jo Moyes. As Oakley mentions in her recent interview with Atlanta Magazine: “The burden of responsibility as a parent is already really high, but when your kids have food allergies, it is a constant 24/7 level of vigilance. It’s already terrifying to let your kids out into the world, but knowing that something as little as a peanut or an egg could end their life, and you’re the sole person responsible for that, is really heavy.” All too true, sadly enough, most people are not educated as to the life-threatening consequences of one single ingredient in a food. On a side note: What a timely topic and one I am well versed on. Allergies are quite the mystery. Their triggers can change without rhyme or reason. From welts, hives, and anaphylaxis numerous times, over foods, additives, chemicals, environmental toxins, and especially, medications of any sort. One drop of cream on your skin, and it can happen. Equipped with Benadryl and an EpiPen, at all times. (I cannot even take children's liquid Claritin without anaphylaxis).
I can only imagine how difficult this may be for parents with children they have to protect. When they are at school or at friend’s homes, away from their controlled environment. Many times it is frustrating, as people do not take allergies serious (especially restaurant staff, friends, and the overall hospitality, and medical industry) unless you have been through the nightmare yourself or someone close to you. I do love my Atlanta authors! Highly recommend both books- an author to follow. A special thank you to Gallery Books and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Atlanta Magazine, March 2017
Colleen Oakley PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM HANCOCK
Allergic to human touch? Colleen Oakley’s latest novel explores the idea We chatted with the metro Atlanta author about her inspiration for the novel about an intriguing imaginary medical condition.
Q&A with the Author:
Try to imagine your life without touch. No hugs or kisses (or sex), but also no brushing hands with the cashier as you pay for your deli sandwich, no handshakes at business meetings, no shoulder rubs with strangers in a packed MARTA train. In her new book, Close Enough to Touch, metro Atlanta novelist Colleen Oakley considers the practical and emotional ramifications of such a life. We recently chatted with Oakley about her inspiration for the book.
This story revolves around a woman, Jubilee Jenkins, with an extremely unusual medical condition—she’s allergic to human touch. Was it based on a real condition?
Before I was a novelist, I was a health journalist, and I’ve written a few articles about allergies. I knew that allergies—food allergies, environmental allergies—are increasing at an exponential rate. These days, everybody knows somebody who has some kind of severe allergy. For me, it was my nephew and my niece, who both have very severe, life-threatening food allergies. Read More
Praise for Close Enough to Touch “The story of three wounded souls denied the human touch they desire, expertly conceived with all the warmth and affection of an enormous bear hug. A real achievement." (Steven Rowley, national bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus ) “A witty, inventive, and bittersweet story of a reclusive young woman forced to venture into the world where complex medical issues become tangled with longings of the heart.” (Beth Hoffman, New York Times bestselling author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt and Looking for Me ) "It's so rare these days to find an utterly original heroine like Jubilee one who is bravely living an almost unimaginable life. Gripping, raw, and moving, this is one of my favorite novels of the year." (Sarah Pekkanen, bestselling author of Skipping a Beat and The Opposite of Me ) "In Close Enough to Touch we meet Jubilee Jenkins, who has a life threatening allergy to human touch, and Eric Keegan, a good guy whose life isn’t going according to plan. Colleen Oakley expertly weaves Jubilee and Eric’s stories together, ensuring we laugh a lot and cry a little as we fly through the pages. This is a heart warming, unconventional love story you won’t be able to put down." (Karma Brown, bestselling author of Come Away With Me and The Choices We Make ) "Oakley delivers a story that overflows with compassion, humor, and the impulsive need to read just one more chapter until you reach the very satisfying end." (Patti Callahan Henry, New York Times bestselling author of Driftwood Summer and Coming Up For Air ) "Colleen Oakley writes a unique twist on love that I couldn’t read it fast enough. With effortless charm, wit, and just a touch of heat (pun intended), Close Enough to Touch's offbeat characters warmed my heart with tender moments and heartbreaking revelations." (Amy E. Reichert, author of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake and Luck, Love & Lemon Pie ) “Heart wrenching and humorous, Oakley delivers an out of the ordinary love story with steady quips and endearing characters… [Jubilee’s] journey from recluse to recovery is fascinating.” (Publishers Weekly) "Oakley masterfully creates a high stakes story that still feels solidly real. All of her characters are well rounded and charming, especially Jubilee. Readers will cheer each time she takes a risk and delight in her triumphs. A romantic, sweet story about taking chances and living life fully." (Kirkus Reviews) “Oakley’s sophomore novel is a treat… Fans of JoJo Moyes and rom coms set within the stacks of libraries will rejoice.” (Booklist) “It is easy to get lost in this vividly told story with characters and a fictional malady that are utterly believable. Oakley’s second novel should build on the author’s popularity and continue comparisons to popular authors such as Jojo Moyes.” (Library Journal) “This novel is the ideal pick for book clubs or just for curling up with a rainy day read… [a] sweet story of love and life.”— (RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars; an RT Top Pick))
Praise for Before I Go by Colleen Oakley 5 Stars My Review
"Oakley expertly tugs at the heartstrings with well-rounded characters and a liberal dose of gallows humor." -Publishers Weekly "Highly recommended for laugh-out-loud fans and the tearjerker set." -Library Journal "This emotional novel will make readers laugh through their tears." --Kirkus Reviews “Oakley has produced an affecting work that, while avoiding maudlin sentimentality, makes the reader care about Daisy and her determination to live while dying.”--Booklist “Author Oakley has set herself a tricky balancing act here, blending a comic sensibility with the depth and poignancy her subject requires. She pulls it off.” --People
“An impressive feat…an immensely entertaining, moving and believable read.”--Atlanta Journal-Constitution
About the Author
One night in high school, while watching the evening news with my mom, she started yelling at a reporter onscreen who was being particularly pushy in his interviewing tactics. “I hate journalists,” she scowled.
That’s when I decided to become a journalist.
Since then my articles and essays have been featured in newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings.
I live in Atlanta with my husband, two children (who are also rebellious because, genetics) and a huge mutt named Bailey. I like to write and read and drink tequila. Not necessarily in that order.
I’m currently working on my second novel. If you would like to babysit my children while I do that, email me. Read More