At 23 and tiptoeing through the professional world, I’ve come to a point in my life where meeting people means I’m meeting who they’ve grown up to be. Many of the young women I meet have amazing, powerful jobs; 75-hour workweeks; and wardrobes bought entirely at Saks Fifth Avenue. For country-mouse me, this is still a new, frightening world. But then I recognize something in the way they express themselves, the depth of their eyes, and the brief silences when they seem to drift somewhere far away.
These women, I often find out later, were girls who grew up among the library stacks, storing little bits of themselves in each book they finished and placed back on the shelf. The moment I started CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH, deeply intelligent Jubilee Jenkins looked me in the eyes and I saw my childhood heroines, all grown up—little Matilda with her big red bow, carting books to her horrid home from the beautiful library; Hermione dwarfed by dusty tomes of magic and history; Belle singing her way down the street, nose deep in a fairy tale. Those women taught me that books help us find the bravery, creativity, and kindness that already exists within us.
Jubilee is deathly allergic to the touch of human skin. After a cruel prank in high school, when the most popular boy in school kisses her on a bet and she nearly dies, Jubilee sequesters herself away for almost a decade. During those long, lonely years, books become her most precious human contact. But when her mother dies and the monthly checks stop coming, she must venture out and get a job, which she takes at the only place she feels at home—the library. There, she meets newly divorced dad Eric, and his eccentric adopted son, Aja. Together Eric and Jubilee draw each other out of their shells and help each other reconnect to the tender, human parts of the world.
As her feelings for Eric deepen, the limitations of her allergy become more heartbreaking: family, love, and happily ever after seem close enough to touch. It’s then that Jubilee realizes that the bookish worlds she’s traversed have given her a special and unique strength. In the face of her inability to physically touch her loved ones, she uses what she has left, intense empathy and understanding, to connect with Eric and Aja in ways that they both deeply need, and forever changes their lives for the better.
As steeped in love and romance as this book is, I believe that the real story is that Jubilee falls in love for the first time with herself, and finally, with her newfound freedom.