Delightful, YA, PG, Romeo-and-Juliet, fake-boyfriend, romantic comedy
Reading Level: Young Adult
Release Date: June 1, 2018
Pages: 396 pages
Publisher: Sleeping Dragon Books
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
The protagonists of this delightful, young-adult, romantic comedy, Xander Bowen and Holly Aberdeen, are both 17 years old. They live in in Adelaide, the capital city of the state of South Australia, and they attend a secondary school called Maple Ridge Grammar. They are in Year Twelve (the equivalent of 12th grade or senior year in high school in the USA).
After a weekend of peptalks and rehearsals with Nancy Milligan, Holly’s best friend for the past five years, Nancy has convinced Holly it is way past time that she proclaim her true feelings to Jason Thomas (AKA “JT”). Jason is Holly’s long-time crush and best friend of ten years’ duration, and Nancy has assured Holly that she is positive that Jason will reciprocate her feelings. But when Holly approaches Jason at school, bright and early Monday morning, she is stunned to encounter him hugging and kissing Nancy. Her sense of betrayal is overwhelming. Not only is she apparently the last one at school to find out that her two best friends are now a couple, but they have been together since early last weekend–a full day before Nancy began encouraging Holly to approach Jason! The sneer on Nancy’s face when she catches Holly’s eye makes it obvious that Nancy’s intent was to cruelly set Holly up for public humiliation, basically sticking in the knife and then giving it a twist.
Desperately blinking away tears, Holly pushes her way through the crowded, school halls, blindly seeking a place to be alone and cry her eyes out. When she randomly shoves open a door and plows into a half-naked, very buff male body, she suddenly realizes she’s alone in the boy’s locker room with none other than the “King of the Bows” AKA “King Douche.” Xander Bowen is the star striker for the soccer team, and one of the two most gorgeous and popular boys at her school–Jason being the other. Each leads a clique of attractive and popular followers. Xander’s followers call Jason’s friends, “JT’s minions,” and Jason’s followers call Xander’s, the “Bows,” The two boys are bitter enemies and, in fact, for many years, out of loyalty to Jason, Holly has taken it as a given that Xander is a worthless “manwhore” and everyone in his clique is a horrible human being as well.
Holly is understandably surprised and suspicious when Xander suggests that if they pretend they are dating, both of them could achieve mutually beneficial ends. Xander is tired of girls throwing themselves at him, wasting time he needs to dedicate to soccer and his studies; Holly’s pride could be saved and a mild retribution achieved by making Jason jealous, and Xander would definitely enjoy helping her stick it to that “git,” Jason.
At first Holly has no intention of taking up Xander on such an outrageous offer, but when Nancy brazenly taunts Holly one too many times at school, right in front of Jason, and he makes zero effort to stand up for her, Holly has had it! Revenge, even if it’s the rather doubtful possibility of making Jason jealous, is too inviting to resist. And so begins the agreement that she and Xander will be indefinitely “Keeping up Appearances” that they are a couple who are mad about each other.
I am a huge fan of romantic comedy novels, and sadly, there are far too few of them written for either adults or teenagers. This YA novel is a brilliant example of rom com, and the author, Elizabeth Stevens, is highly skilled at creating the best kind of comedy, based on witty repartee rather than the humiliation humor of slapstick. She also is outstanding at writing romance, utilizing the very best themes of a long tradition within adult romance novels, including: a terrific Meet Cute, no cheating, the essential romantic conflict of distrust slowly evolving to trust, a powerful personal-growth arc of both protagonists, and a happily ever after (HEA). Holly and Xander are both extremely sympathetic characters, and so are many of the subcharacters among Xander’s close friends, the Bows.
As a brief parental warning, I would rate this story PG-13 because there is a lot of frank talk between Xander and Holly, with a bit of semi-coarse language and multiple somewhat risqué discussions of teen-male sexual attitudes and behavior. However, there is no more sensuality between the protagonists than a few kisses. If this were an adult romance novel with sex, I would call this a “slow burn” story, because it takes most of the book before they engage in the G-rated version of sex, kissing. Also, refreshingly for the YA genre, though there is mention of underage drinking, there is none onstage.
My only mild complaint is that it is not entirely clear what the geographic location of the story is, other than the use of British slang, until halfway through when the author finally mentions Adelaide. It would be nice if there had been more attention to setting by providing a bit of local color.
I rate this book as follows:
Romance Plot: 5