Hot by Halloween by M.F. Lorson and Jessica Bucher

Hot by Halloween Cover

Terrific, G-rated, YA, sports romance

Hot by Halloween (Squad Goals #1) by M.F. Lorson and Jessica Bucher

Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: September 15, 2019
Pages: 200 pages
Source: Purchase
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry

Just before the beginning of her senior year, Addy Altman participates in an annual ritual with the “squad,” a coterie of herself and her two best friends, Nora and Lucy. They each set a goal for the year. This time around, Addy’s goal is to become so hot by Halloween, that her ex-boyfriend Mitch will rue the day that he dumped her last spring for another girl, after two whole years of dating. Addy’s plan doesn’t include a complete makeover. She already knows how to do her hair and makeup and dress well, and she doesn’t need to lose weight. But she wants to become more healthy, with a toned, fit body, and she decides the best way to do that is to join the school swim team. The second part of her plan is to find a gorgeous boy to date, because she is positive that would drive Mitch crazy with jealousy.

Gray Turner was forced to leave behind all his friends and a championship swim team in California, where he had an excellent chance of earning an athletic scholarship to his first-choice school, the University of California at Berkeley. He had to move because his recently divorced mother received a job offer as a nurse at a rural hospital in a town in Minnesota so small, its swim team is a farce. Anyone who wants to can join the team, even if they can barely swim. A major case in point is a girl his age named Addy. She is an utter novice who is hopelessly clueless as to what is required to swim competitively.

If Gray can’t get to regionals, he has zero chance of being seen by a university scout and winning a sports scholarship, which is his only chance to pay for college and get out of this dumpy town and back to his real home, in sunny California. But since the coach refuses to cut anyone from the team, realistically Gray is left with only two options: Convince Addy to voluntarily drop out of the team, or give her lessons so she can greatly improve her performance.

Unfortunately, it becomes immediately apparent that there is no way that Addy will quit the team. She may be a dud at swimming, but she is stubborn as a mule and absolutely refuses to give up. Lessons it will have to be.

This is a delightful, G-rated version of a classic romance plot, “enemies to lovers.” The premise initially sounds like this story will involve another tried-and-true romance formula, the makeover plot. I was delighted to discover, however, that the makeover in this book is not the classic one, which involves going to a salon and getting a fancy hairdo and makeup tips and buying a bunch of stylish clothes. Instead, the makeover in this story is approached from a health angle, eating a better diet and getting fit. Since anything to do with a healthy lifestyle is virtually never a focus of YA novels, I found it a delightful change to encounter it in this story.

Poor Gray has had a very rough row to hoe, with a bum of a father and seemingly losing all he holds dear when transplanted to Minnesota. However, he has a wonderful, loving and supportive mother, whom he is very close with. And it is a pleasure to read how he and Addy slowly progress from adversaries to friends as he helps her improve her swimming skills. Addy’s sunny disposition brings Gray out of the doldrums, and Gray’s expertise in swimming allows Addy to gain a great sense of confidence and competence as she drastically improves her swimming skills.

I love a romantic relationship where the two partners amplify each other, inspiring each other to grow and change in really positive ways. This couple is all of that and more. The fact that in personality they are opposites provides many humorous and also many poignant moments in this extremely appealing story.

I love the swim team plot, both Addy’s dedication to becoming a better swimmer, and her emotional support of Gray, which helps him to achieve a vital, personal goal of his own as a swimmer.

I also enjoyed the subcharacters, including especially Addy’s quirky younger brother, her two friends, and Gray’s mother.

I particularly appreciated that, in the long-time tradition of adult romance novels, this book alternates between the point of view of both protagonists. This approach allows the reader to deeply get to know Gray, who is a very sympathetic hero.

My only slight complaint with this novel is that I wish the epilogue had been set farther in the future, rather than only a few weeks after the end of the story. I would have liked to find out what happened to Addy and Gray after they graduated from high school.

Overall, this is one of the best YA books I’ve read this year. I am hoping this is the first book in a trilogy, and there will be a Squad Goals book for each of Addy’s two best girlfriends. There is a strong hint in this book that one of Addy’s friends may form a romance with Addy’s brother, who is 13 months younger than Addy. What a fun twist on the adult-romance-novel “cougar” plotline that would be!

I rate this book as follows:

Heroine: 5

Hero: 5

Subcharacters: 5

Romance Plot: 5

Swimming Plot: 5

Writing: 5

Overall: 5

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