When Josie Jensen, an awkward 13-year-old musical prodigy crashes headlong into new-comer Samuel Yazzie, an 18-year-old Navajo boy full of anger and confusion, an unlikely friendship blooms. Josie teaches Samuel about words, music and friendship, and along the way finds a kindred spirit. Upon graduation, Samuel abandons the sleepy, small town in search of a future and a life, leaving his young friend behind. Many years go by and Samuel returns, finding Josie in need of the very things she offered him years before. Their roles reversed, Samuel teaches Josie about life, love, and letting go. Deeply romantic and poignant, Running Barefoot is the story of a small town girl and a Native American boy, the ties that bind them to their homes and families, and the love that gives them wings.

When I heard that this book was loosely connected to the upcoming The Law of Moses and featured an unusual couple pairing, I was immediately on board with reading it as I love interconnected stories with a dose of cultural references and quirky, unique characters. But as I have learned the hard way many times, no matter how wonderful a book idea may be, if I cannot get used to the author’s writing style than that glorious premise might as well be nothing to me. And sadly, this is the case with every Amy Harmon book I have read. It is very clear that she has a way with words and that her books appeal to a certain audience, but her overly rich writing style is just not one that I can identify with. And with this being the 3rd book of hers I have read (or tried to read and then later put down) and didn’t particularly enjoy, I think it may be time for me to just part ways with this author and move on indefinitely, even though a part of me still really wants to try out The Law of Moses because I genuinely like the premise.

This book tells the love and life story of two kindred souls Josie Jensen and Samuel Yazzie. At the tender age of thirteen, Josie is far more mature and possesses an intellect that surpasses most of her peers. Harboring a deep love for books and music, the kindhearted Josie strikes up a tentative acquaintanceship with the edgy but misunderstood Samuel, a half-white, half-Navajo eighteen year old whose ethnicity is judged upon by others and isn’t fully accepted in either world. Through her eyes and ears, Samuel comes to appreciate literary arts more and they form a bond over their mutual love for Shakespeare and Beethoven.
After months roll by, Samuel leaves for the Marines while Josie remains in the small town of Levan and so they part ways. The story then starts alternating between some time gaps for a few chapters until finally, seven whole years have gone by. Josie and Samuel haven’t seen or spoken to each other during this time and the years haven’t been kind to Josie. Tragedy after tragedy occurs and so she’s stuck in the same town caring for her family when Samuel returns to Levan and their paths cross again.
I want to preface that I am a huge second chance romance fan. The idea that two people have such intertwined fates that they’re given a second chance for a relationship feeds my inner romantic. But I also have to be upfront by saying that the second chance romance here was poorly executed. Not going in specifics as it’ll spoil part of the plot, but basically Josie goes through tragedy after tragedy and when Samuel conveniently is on leave, they see each other again and their romance is instantly rekindled. This was so hard for me to believe…because here’s the truth: while they were young, there wasn’t a romance. Their relationship was more of a friendship and both knew if Samuel had stayed instead of going off to the Marines, it would soon turn into something more. And when he was gone, they only interacted once before leading their own lives for the next 7 years. So my bewilderment comes from not understanding the romantic connection in the first place. I think the author should’ve spaced more time in between, especially with a certain tragedy that happened which made it even harder for me to believe in their romance.
But the main reason that left me feeling underwhelmed? It’s the author’s writing. And I don’t say this to be extra mean. I say it like someone who doesn’t like a vegetable or prefers the color green. It’s really my personal preference and I know tons of readers who love her writing style so I’m in the minority. The overly rich and descriptive writing combined with too many life anecdotes and Navajo history honestly smothered me. It got to the point where something would happen plot-wise, and then Samuel would say “another Navajo legend…” and I wanted to hurl myself off a cliff. It’s overkill.
That’s not to say that there weren’t good quotes or that there weren’t any scenes I liked because there was. The first 40% of the book I loved and thought that this’d be 4.5 stars at the very least but after that the difficult writing style that I couldn’t adjust to along with the weak and unconvincing second chance romance crippled the story.
Perhaps staunch fans of the author and those familiar with her writing style will enjoy this one, but for me it further solidifies that me and her books are like oil and water. We simply don’t mix.
Running Barefoot is a second chance romance with heavy emphasis on Native American history and religion. It is loosely connected to The Law of Moses in terms of the setting and a brief cameo but both can be read as complete standalones.
Rating: 2.5 stars!