I’ve had Incarcerated on my TBR list for a long time. I haven’t read a bad review for it yet, so I was undoubtedly intrigued. OTOH, the interracial pairing here gave me serious pause as to how this story would play out. A Black woman and a White man who is not only a convicted felon, but a racist…
Reading about a hero who has a criminal past doesn’t bother me all that much but the racist element was off-putting. There’s enough of that IRL, I don’t need it in a romance novel. I’ve said it before in my reviews — if not done right, it can come off as rather lazy (to me) for an author to rely on the racial differences of their characters as the primary conflict in an interracial romance. So, despite the numerous 4 and 5 star reviews I read in advance of Incarcerated, I was prepared to not enjoy this book as much as I did.
Logan Whyte, a 35 year old White man, is from Kentucky serving the tail end of an eight-year bid for armed robbery in a Vermont prison. He’s served his time as the model inmate and expects to be released soon. Logan meets Katie through the Prison Pen Pal Program. All he asks of Katie is her time and honesty.
Katie Andreassen, a 25 year old Black woman, is a successful author and a bit of a hermit. Even though she has a best friend, Teal, and her dad to whom she is very close she’s still quite lonely. The pen pal program was her idea to help lonely inmates connect with the outside world. It’s clear very quickly that Katie suggested the pen pal program to her father, the prison’s warden, as a cure for her own loneliness as much as the inmates’.
Logan and Katie embark on a pen pal relationship in which they agree to keep some level of anonymity wherein they don’t share what each other looks like. Against both their better judgement, soon their relationship is more than just two letters a month as they plan a future together once Logan is released. Although Logan has made it clear that he is White, Katie has not mentioned her own race; thus, Logan assumes Katie is White as well (which he requested when applying for the program).
This is the part that kept my heart pounding. The author does a great job here of building the anticipation and suspense of when Logan will find out that Katie is Black and what he will do with that information. How will Katie react when she finds out that the man she’s falling in love with is a racist?
For the first half of this book, I felt nothing more than pity for Katie. There were many times that I wanted to step through my e-reader and smack some sense into Katie. She trusts Logan way too easily and doesn’t pay attention to what he’s telling her. To the author’s credit, in the latter half of this story is when Katie comes alive. She stands up for herself FINALLY and we get to see her strength. Thankfully, Katie is not portrayed as some weak lovesick fool who dismisses or refuses to see Logan’s issues for what they are and how difficult they will be to overcome.
Once Logan comes to terms with the fact that he has indeed fallen head over heels in love with a Black woman and wants to make a life with her, there’s some major soul-searching for both Katie and Logan. Logan’s transformation is not instantaneous which makes this journey so believable. Ms. Iversen shows us Logan’s humanity. She created a story where a reader like myself, who wasn’t a fan of Logan’s, can understand how events in one’s life could lead him to the place he was pre-Katie. What redeems Logan is that he makes a concerted effort to work through those issues and not use his past as an excuse to prevent him from making a solid future with Katie.
Although there’s a hopeful and fulfilling end to Incarcerated, it’s not wrapped up in a pretty bow like most traditional romance reads. It’s very clear that Logan and Katie still have a lot of hurdles to jump before they get to true HEA.
Overall, Incarcerated is a thought-provoking interracial romance that I’d recommend to those looking for something different from the genre’s norm. I will continue to swim in the deep end and read Inevitable about Katie’s and Logan’s best friends, Teal and Trent, both of whom I did not like here. It’ll be interesting to see their journey as friends to Katie and Logan and as a couple based on what we’ve learned about them thus far.