Outstanding YA romantic comedy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: January 21, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Pages: 368 pages
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Pepper Evans and Jack Campbell are both 17-year-old seniors at Stone Hall Academy, a ritzy, private school in New York City, which has only a total of about 325 students for all four grades. They know each other on sight, but they have never been friends, even though they’ve both attended the school the past four years, and they share the same pool on a regular basis where she is captain of the girls’ swimming team and he is captain of the dive team.
Pepper is an overachiever who is burning herself out, trying to be the Mini-Me of her mother, who is an extremely successful, high-powered businesswoman who started, expanded, and continues to run an expansive chain of family restaurants called Big League Burger. Her parents had an amicable divorce four years ago, and her mother left her father behind in Nashville, where the very first Big League Burger restaurant began, in order to move with Pepper and her older sister, Paige, to the Upper East Side in New York. Paige is currently a senior at a university in Philadelphia, but the two of them are very close and have created together a cooking blog specializing in desserts with quirky names. Pepper’s goal in life is to open her own bakery with Paige someday.
Jack is a chronic underachiever who is confused about his future due to strong family loyalty to his parents’ quaint, East Village, neighborhood deli, Girl Cheesing, which was started many years ago by his beloved paternal grandmother, Grandma Belly. He feels that, unlike his charismatic twin brother, Ethan, his future is already written in stone. He will work in the deli the rest of his life, eventually inheriting it completely and running it himself. In contrast, career and life options are wide open for Ethan, whom Jack believes is destined for greatness. He is both glad for Ethan and envious of his freedom of choice.
Jack is very talented at computer programming and is the secret developer of an app called Weazel that is available only to the students at his high school. He set it up so that users must have an email from the school itself in order to join the app, which effectively weeds out any potential catfishing predators. In addition, all the participants are automatically assigned a username by the app when they log in for the first time, which is always some kind of animal. Everyone remains anonymous in the main Hallway Chat, but when users talk to each other privately, one-on-one, Jack has the app set up to randomly out them to each other by their real names within one to seven days. Jack goes by the handle, “Wolf,” and he has been privately chatting with a girl with the handle, “Bluebird,” for the past two months. It has been going so well between the two of them, he has jury-rigged his app so it will not reveal their real identities to each other until he himself decides to do so. Of course, it is completely possible for Jack to know who each person using the app actually is, including Bluebird, but he’s made it a point to not look at that information for anyone, and definitely not for Bluebird. It would feel like cheating, like taking unfair advantage. And, most of all, he doesn’t want to take the chance that, if he knew who Bluebird actually is, he might not like her as much in person as he does while chatting. Or worse, she might not like him.
Jack is incredibly loyal to Girl Cheesing, and he is incensed when he learns that the huge fast-food chain, Big League Burger, has stolen the recipe for “Grandma’s Special,” his family’s deli’s top-selling, extra-special grilled-cheese sandwich. Jack’s father tells him to just ignore it, but Jack refuses. He pulls up the Girl Cheesing Twitter account, which has a handful of followers compared to BLB’s millions of followers, and tweets at their account by posting a picture of the Grandma’s Special grilled cheese in a BLB wrapper, sitting in a puddle on the sidewalk with the caption, “Tell Me I’m pretty #GrilledByBLB.” Then the unimaginable happens. A famous 80’s pop star, who is apparently a big fan of Girl Cheesing and follows their Twitter account, retweets Jack’s tweet, and suddenly there are 3000 more retweets.
Pepper sees the tweet from Girl Cheesing and is surprised to note that, yes, BLB actually seems to have stolen their recipe. She talks to her mother about it, but Mom acts like she doesn’t care and insists that Pepper write a snappy comeback to the tweet. Reluctantly, Pepper agrees. And thus begins a twitter war that takes the internet by storm.
This adorable, “enemies to lovers,” YA romance is an excellent version of the classic, romantic, comedy-of-errors plot in which two people who are at odds in real life are simultaneously in love with each other as anonymous penpals—and neither realizes that their wonderful penpal is one and the same as an awful person whom they know and despise. This plot first appeared in the movie, Shop Around the Corner (1940), with Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. It was remade as a musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949), with Judy Garland and Van Johnson. And updated into the modern, Internet era in You’ve Got Mail (1998), starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. This author does an excellent job, even better then any of the movie versions of this plot, of believably motivating how two people could anonymously know each other as penpals and also collide with each other in the real world. This story also excels at having those characters fall for each other twice, both as virtual penpals and in the real world, which is one of the fun parts of this type of plot.
I love Pepper and Jack. They are both likeable, sympathetic characters. The journey of their romance is often downright hilarious as the two of them battle it out on Twitter with funny, snarky tweets. There are also many excellently drawn subcharacters in this story, most especially close members of both their families.
The setting of different parts of New York City as well as scenes at their private high school are all well done and fun to experience.
This is a G-rated book suitable for all ages. It is a “slowburn” romance in that the first kiss does not happen until very late in the book. The hero and heroine do not drink, smoke, or do drugs. In fact, they both seem to be virgins who have not dated throughout high school. Jack has only been kissed a few times, and Pepper has never been kissed until she kisses Jack. It is well motivated that they have not dated, because they have both been too busy to date.
I really enjoyed this book and consider it a keeper that I know I will read and reread multiple times.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5
Coming of Age Plot: 5
New York City Setting: 5