This month I have read a lot of YA contemporary romance.
I began my summer with Save the Date by Morgan Matson and Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett. Immediately after finishing these, I got on my library’s website and placed holds on the rest of their books, and now I’ve finished Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, and Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, and The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson.
I usually go into a YA romance thinking it is going to be ridiculously predictable (aka boring) but a fast, entertaining read nevertheless. Despite my negative attitude going into these book, I ended up enjoying them! Save the Date and Starry Eyes are the authors’ newest books, and I discovered from Alex, Approximately, Since You’ve Been Gone, and The Unexpected Everything that they have improved their writing styles a lot.
I realized that a common theme throughout her books is the way friendships and family influence us, which strangely enough seems scarce and very downplayed in many YA books. In all of her books that I have read, Morgan Matson does a great job of developing her characters very naturally, and the development always comes from within the character rather than being forced by an external force (like a guy).
Since You’ve Been Gone
This book starts with Emily receiving a list from her missing friend Sloane that challenges her to do thirteen things to get her out of her comfort zone, including kiss a stranger, hug a Jamie, sleep under the stars, and break something. Believing that this list would lead her to Sloane, Emily begins working on the items immediately, and this causes her to make some unexpected friendships along the way.
I’ve learned that I really love books with lists, as strange as that seems. Emily’s character really grew throughout the book. She was so dependent on Sloane at the beginning, and I really liked that we got to see her grow into her own person. The list really helped Emily face her fears, gain confidence, and take more chances in life. I was really looking forward to how some of the more vague challenges would play out, like #5: Penelope. This book was a fun read, and the fact that the romance aspect was more secondary to the friendship aspect was actually really amazing.
Most parts of the romance aspect were pretty predictable, but it was still fun to read about that and how Emily got to that point. I found Emily to be a relatable character with her not-so-skilled deceptions, difficulty in getting out of her own head, and exploration of her own personality and character.
The Unexpected Everything
Honestly, this one was my least favorite of the three Morgan Matson books I’ve read. I began the book not really liking Andie, the main character, or the passive tone the book began with. There was a lot of description and thoughts in the first few chapters, and I get bored when there isn’t much dialogue to break this up. This grievance did go away with the introduction of Andie’s friends, however, so I can forgive the first few chapters for not immediately grabbing my attention.
Unlike Since You’ve Been Gone, I didn’t love the friends our main character had. There wasn’t anything bad about them, but they seemed too cliquey and like girls from 90210. The four girls have been best friends since elementary school, but their connection doesn’t get developed too much past that superficial point. While it is stated that their friendship runs deep and they all love each other, etc etc, this isn’t really shown in how the girls act.
I also didn’t love the romance aspect of this book. There isn’t anything bad about the relationship or either one of the characters, but I didn’t find myself rooting for them like I have with other book couples. I liked that they were sort of an opposites attract couple and that they met under not-so-ideal circumstances, but that’s it. The characters themselves have good storylines, but there wasn’t much beyond that for me.
What the book lacks in great friendship and romance it makes up for in a great family component. Andie and her father have a difficult relationship due to his demanding politician’s schedule, but their dynamic begins to change as his credibility comes under scrutiny. Their relationship’s growth and the role her father played in Andie’s development helped get the book to 3 stars.
Starry Eyes got me hooked on Jenn Bennett. It was a cute romance that explored more serious topics like marriage issues, family trust, and self-doubt. I read it in a couple of hours, and I expected much of the same romance, wit, and friendship from Alex, Approximately.
This book was pretty good! The book is supposed to be a loose retelling of You’ve Got Mail, but I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t confirm how closely the two are related. That being said, the plot for this book seemed pretty original to me. Bailey “Mink” Rydell, classic movie aficionado, decided to move in with her dad in the same Californian town as her online friend/crush Alex. Worried that he won’t be anything like what she imagined, Mink doesn’t tell him that she moved across the country. While she worries about this problem, she also deals with her new summer job at the museum, where she meets a new friend and a cute security guard who keeps getting under her skin.
As the summer months go by, Mink learns more about herself through the friends and enemies(?) that she makes. The unexpected connections she makes throughout the summer remind me a bit of Since You’ve Been Gone, though the plots and characters are pretty different.
Like many of the YA romances I’ve read lately, I love the story more for the character development than the plot, and this book is no exception. I loved reading about Bailey breaking out of her shell, the sarcastic banter between her and Porter, and the friendship between her and her new coworker. It is definitely a light summer read, and I plan on watching the movie sometime soon because of this book.
Even though the book is mostly light, it does tough on some darker topics, primarily drug abuse and mental health issues. This aspect of the book helped move the plot along, but it also made the book more impactful by demonstrating just how powerful drugs are. Drugs turned Porter’s childhood best friend into someone who would do anything to hurt him just for revenge or to score some money. But beyond that, Jenn Bennett showed us that underneath the addiction is still a person who needs help. She didn’t turn him into a monster, and I wish we could have learned more about him and his story beyond the drug addiction.
I really loved the friendship between Bailey and Grace. Way to show girls supporting girls!!
The romance in Alex, Approximately is also ridiculously cute. Porter is annoying in a way that really grows on you, and the dynamic between the two is so fun and natural that it makes for a really easy read.
Between Morgan Matson and Jenn Bennett (plus a few others– reviews to come soon!), I got my fill of cute YA romance books this summer. I went into these books thinking I would find a cute though predictable story, but instead I found strong friendships, deeper discussions about mental health and drugs, family bonds, and personal growth- with a dash of romance.