“How can I possibly earn you?” Darcy Barnett asks Tom Valeska.
“You earn me daily. Let me spoil Darcy Barnett a little, for the rest of her life. Let me get a taste of that feeling.” Tom replies.
This is their love — each believes they’re undeserving of the other’s love, yet they love the other person with every atom of their being. Loving, to them, feels like a privilege.
Those readers who loved Sally Thorne’s début The Hating Game and expect a similar style of story told in that same authorial voice will find this second book, 99 Percent Mine, a totally different story. While I enjoyed that first book, I liked this one very much.
The first book was everything writ large, whereas this novel looks inward. It is all about the inner growth of Darcy from insecurity to confidence. It is a tale of how a person can grow up surrounded by love yet feel not worthy of it. How is such a person to be convinced that not only are they deeply loved but that they can love deeply in return?
This self-doubt is in complete contrast to the persona Darcy presents to the world. On the surface, she’s one heck of a strong person. She’s a night bartender at a bikers’ bar and she’s the alpha to beat all the alphas who come there. She is only involved in short-term hookups — no relationships. She’s fancy-free and takes off at short notice to travel the world. She’s been to many places and been with many men. And yet at her core lies this fathomless insecurity that she is at great pains to hide from the world. Usually, she succeeds in hiding it from herself with candy and wine.
She has five people in the world whom she loves: her twin brother, Jamie; her childhood friend, Tom; her best friend, Truly; and her parents. Despite their continual loving presence in her life, she feels that they’re merely tolerating her and her lifelong heart ailment; they don’t truly care about her; she’s only a guest in their lives.
At eighteen, when Tom tells her that he loves her, Darcy’s response is to say “I know,” and then hightail it out of town to parts unknown. How is a young love to survive this? It withers on the vine from that cavalier attitude, and Tom turns to Megan for solace for the next eight years, thereby cementing Darcy’s belief that she is not enough, not even for Tom whom she loves with every fiber of her being. However at eighteen, that love had felt too much, it had felt suffocating, so Darcy had run away.
Eight years later, Tom is back in Megan’s life as a contractor to completely remodel her grandmother Loretta’s home, which Loretta has willed to Jamie and Darcy. And Darcy’s feelings for Tom, which have been on a continuous simmer all throughout the eight years, come to a roiling boil. When she finds out that he has broken up with Megan, she shouts, “Get in me, Tom Valeska.” and then quickly realizes her error when she sees how terrified he is. She feels like a sexual predator of an unwilling man. He is six-foot-six and very well-built and confident as all heck, but he is so vulnerable to her.
This to me is the charm of the book. They are both so outwardly self-assured and capable, but within the privacy of their twosome, they feel uncertain of every step they take. They know they love, but are they loved in return? This anxiety changes as the book advances to: The other person loves me, but are they willing to be in a forever loving relationship with me, because one does not follow the other? In most books, the I-Love-Yous are immediately followed by marriage vows, but that progression is completely uncertain in this story.
Despite the story being told from Darcy’s point-of-view in first person present tense, you get a full picture of Tom and Tom’s feelings. Darcy not only understands him very well, but also her talent as a portrait photographer allows her to skillfully and accurately gauge his emotions. It is Thorne’s expertise in writing that she is able to create two fully-fledged main characters from a single viewpoint. This story simply could not have been told in any other way– third person past tense would’ve distanced the reader from the action, and more importantly, from the raw emotion of the story.