The Exceptions by David Cristofano
Read by Natalie October 2012
Natalie recommends as beautiful as its predecessor
In June 2010, I read a book called The Girl She Used To Be which was given to me by a friend and a book I knew nothing about. I sat down to read it and didn't stop until I had finished it 6 hours later. I loved it. It was gripping, it was intriguing, it was romantic (oh the Italian, swoon!) and it was heartbreaking. The story of Melody, a lonely girl whose entire family was forced into the Witness Protection Program after they inadvertently witnessed a mob hit. They spent their life hiding and trying to blend in. Then one day, Melody's parents were caught, murdered by the mafia and Melody was left alone. Lonely and longing to make real connections, she desperately wanted to go back to being the girl she used to be. Then she met Johnny Bravo, youngest son of the powerful Bravo family and the man sent to kill her. Only he couldn't, because he'd fallen in love with her and only wanted to protect her. As the two of them desperately fought to find a way to stay together, Johnny struggled with what his family had done to her and, making the biggest sacrifice of his life, he let her go, finally giving Melody her life back.
As much as I loved this book however, the ending broke my heart. I won't tell you exactly what happened except to say that although Melody got her life back, she lost something in the process. What I did love was the writing, the story, everything about it. I longed for another book from this author and then finally a couple of weeks ago I found it. This book was The Exceptions and this time it was Johnny Bravo's story.
Although this is an exact retelling of the events of Melody's book, it is a lot more. We learn the truth about why the mafia were after Melody's family and it is heartbreakingly sad. Johnny, in his youth is so mesmerized by the sight of Melody that he doesn't stop her family from walking down the alley to the back door of his father's restaurant. Had he done that, they never would have witnessed anything. But Johnny also had a lot of love and loyalty for his family and because of that, he didn't understand the implications of providing Melody's father's licence plate to his father. However as the years pass by and Johnny cannot get the young girl out of his mind, he also learns of his role in the fate of her family. Learning more and more about his family's business, never more so than when he is sent in to murder Melody and her parents, Johnny finally starts to understand not only what he has done, but what he must now do. Determined to protect Melody from any more bloodshed, he makes it his mission to protect her, at all costs. This includes setting her free when it becomes apparent his family is not going to stop until all the members of her family are in the ground. But making the ultimate sacrifice to give Melody her life back comes at a cost for Johnny too and he not only loses the love of his life, but his family as well.
Having retold all of the events of Melody's book, I was beyond excited to see Johnny's version still had over 100 pages to go. Although I understood what he had done for her, it still broke my heart at where that decision left both he and Melody. So when Johnny's book continues to move forward and we see him both coming to terms with living a life that he had originally forced Melody into, as well as trying to let her go, my fingers were crossed that somehow his decision could be fixed. Was it? Well I don't think I would be this happy if it wasn't and to watch it all play out, oh my heart swooned again. Johnny, you are too adorable for words and I love how you see the two of you as The Exceptions. I loved this book, even if it at times it was information heavy and a little bogged down. I absolutely loved being inside Johnny's head, watching him struggle with his feelings of loyalty and love. I never knew the violence and gruesome nature of the mafia could be so exquisite! This is a book I would highly recommend, but read Melody's version first because you need the full impact of that decision before you can learn to appreciate why he made it.