Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately Cover

Fun, New Adult, beach romance

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse; Reprint edition
Pages: 416 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Eighteen-year-old, Bailey Rydell (known online as “Mink”) has just finished her junior year in high school. She is a classic film buff, to the point that she dyes and styles her hair in a Lana Turner, 1940’s, platinum-blond, shoulder-length, pageboy haircut, and wears vintage clothing from the 40’s and 50’s. For the past few months, Bailey has been messaging online, through a classic-film chatroom, with a fellow film geek she knows only as “Alex.” He has told her he is her age, and she is amazed to discover that he lives in the same town in California as her accountant father, who moved there from New Jersey several years ago after he and her mother divorced. In this day and age of “catfishing,” where strangers with suspect motives use fake identities to build relationships, especially romantic relationships, with other online users, Bailey rightly decides to exercise caution about arranging a meeting with Alex, and does not notify him that she has moved across the country to join her father. She decides to play detective using as clues tidbits of information Alex has given her about himself in order to track him down and check him out from a safe distance to determine if he is who and what he claims to be before she agrees to meet him.

Bailey’s father is a sweet, nerdy guy who is a loving and supportive parent. He lives in a cute bungalow, which has an actual redwood tree growing though its back porch. He offers Bailey an extremely thoughtful gift that she adores, a bright turquoise, classic Vespa scooter with a leopard-print seat that fits right in with her vintage fashion choices and is perfect for tooling around town, feeling like Audrey Hepburn in “Roman Holiday.” As she searches for Alex, she simultaneously explores the quirky, and extremely scenic, fictional, Northern California beach town, Coronado Cove, which is a bustling tourist destination between San Francisco and Big Sur. It has 20,000 residents and, since the weather is great all year, at least twice that many tourists are constantly clogging up the town. They come for three main things: the redwood forest, a private nude beach, and great waves for surfing.

Bailey lands a summer job at a kooky local tourist trap called the Cavern Palace Museum. She makes friends there with a female coworker her age named Grace, and a nice old man who works as a guard. Unfortunately, the second guard, Porter Roth, who is also Bailey’s age, is a pain in the neck. He has been friends with Grace for years, but toward Bailey, he is so snarky, she often gets into heated exchanges with him. She refuses to put up with his many taunts that clearly indicate he thinks she’s some kind of prissy, stuck-up rich girl, which she absolutely is not. Porter is so completely different from Alex in personality, Bailey doesn’t consider for a moment that he might be Alex. But given the fact that Porter is a gorgeous, ripped surfer boy, Bailey is unwillingly attracted to him, in spite of his rudeness.

I call this type of plot, rather than “You’ve Got Mail,” a “Shop Around the Corner” (SATC) Plot,” because it was first used in the romantic-comedy movie, “The Shop Around the Corner,” in 1940. This plot appeared a second time in the film, “In the Good Old Summertime,” in 1949, and finally in the film, “You’ve Got Mail,” in 1998.

This is a difficult plot to pull off successfully, because it requires the audience to immediately suspend disbelief in an enormous coincidence, that the romantic protagonists could somehow become penpals and also accidentally run into each other in real life. (Technically it is a spoiler to say that Porter is Alex, but since the publisher, Simon Pulse, has included that crucial tidbit in the blurb describing the plot, I feel no qualms about including it here.) Realistically, the odds against a meeting like that happening are astronomical unless the two people involved have agreed, as penpals, to meet face to face and purposefully arrange a time and place for that meeting. Those of us who like this particular, tried-and-true plot, however, willingly suspend disbelief in the unlikely setup, because it is so much fun to experience the contrast between the terrific relationship the two protagonists have in their faceless correspondence compared to the sniping enmity between them in the real world.

This book is written in first-person point of view from Bailey’s perspective entirely, so we only get to know Porter through her eyes, which initially makes it somewhat difficult to like him because he is so undeservedly scornful toward Bailey. He does redeem himself fully later on, though, and it is a necessary requirement of the SATC plot that the romantic hero be a bit of a jerk toward the heroine, as described above.

This particular version of SATC is more of a dramedy than it is a comedy because there is a lot of tragedy in the personal backgrounds of both Bailey and Porter which has left each of them with issues of trust and some degree of PTSD. There is also some on-stage melodrama in this book in the form of a violent, teenage villain.

I love the setting of this story. Though Coronado Cove has a smaller population, it very much reminds me of Santa Cruz, where I lived years ago, with its boardwalk and beaches, gorgeous redwoods, and quaint atmosphere.

I also greatly enjoyed the surfing subplot. Porter’s family is filled with talented surfers, including Porter himself, his younger sister, his father, and his deceased paternal grandfather was legendary in the surfing world. Porter’s parents also own a surfing shop right on the beach.

The progress of the romantic relationship from enemies, to friends, to romance is very well done. Given that the two protagonists are 18 years old, making them legally of age, this book is geared a bit more toward a New Adult audience rather than young teens. Their relationship is “slow burn,” but it does eventually contain sex. However, this book retains a Young Adult feel in that there are no graphic descriptions of the sex. It is implied, rather than shown.

Neither Porter nor Bailey smoke, drink or do drugs, and there is no foul language in the book. But due to the violence of the villain and the implied sexual activity, I would personally deem this book’s content to be PG-13.

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 4

Hero: 4

Subcharacters: 4

Romance Plot: 4

Melodrama Plot: 3

Setting: 5

Writing: 4

Overall: 4

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