I’m not going to break new ground in reviewing here. Trade Me is every bit as great as one should come to expect from a Courtney Milan romance, with her trademark mixture of iconoclastic female characters, wit, progressive agenda, and wonderful chemistry between her main players.
Brevity is the soul of this plot summary: Tina Chen, a student of low financial means, “trades places” for a semester with Blake Reynolds, young billionaire, after the former challenges the latter that he wouldn’t last two weeks in her position, since he doesn’t know the first practical thing about poverty. Intrigued and looking for a reprieve from the stress of his position at the right hand of his father, CEO of Cyclone Industries Adam Reynolds, Blake accepts. The two spend a lot of time together by necessity, as Blake needs to train Tina to temporarily assume his duties and prepare for an upcoming product launch. Aaaaaaaand ROMANCE!
There are literally two nitpicks that I have about Trade Me, which I’ll mention before going on to discuss what I loved. First: I was so completely engrossed in the book, which increasingly picked up steam for me as Tina and Blake’s relationship progressed AND as they got closer to the launch, that the finale and end to the book came so abruptly that it felt like falling off a cliff. This is partly a whine that the book had to end at all, but there was something a little bit wonky about the pacing where there was a LOT OF DRAMA that got packed into the back end and then was all resolved in one motion. Which leads me to my second nitpick, which is SPOILERS:
I have trouble buying the brazen, live-streaming to hundreds of thousands confession by Blake/Adam Reynolds that Adam has a coke habit and is headed to rehab. Likewise, the subsequent “Don’t Do Drugs” punishment letter that Adam had to pen was hilarious and biting, but I think it kind of lampshaded the book’s own easy resolution. In other words, by Adam’s own admission in his letter, someone like him (which is to say, rich, powerful, white, etc) gets to do drugs with little to no consequences, but basically everyone else Shouldn’t Do Drugs because they won’t get the same kid-gloves treatment. He’s right of course, and his own light punishment is proof of that, so the whole resolution is very neat and circular and IMO rather too clean for a really messy issue.
So moving right along, here’s what I loved:
- Milan’s thoughtful constructive criticism of liberal academia and its tendency to discuss social issues and the disadvantaged as abstract concepts, while its members tend to assume a privileged position, making them come across as rather tone deaf to entrants in the discussion with practical experience in such matters
- The loving and supportive families of both Blake and Tina. It’s a breath of fresh air to see characters’ parents in a romance start as fundamentally good people (even ones with brash exterior affects, like Adam) who make mistakes and even occasionally fail their children, but who at the end of the day can be counted on.
- Milan’s unrelenting advocacy for minority characters — POC, transgendered characters, the poor (with concessions to issues that the impoverished ACTUALLY face, not just “Oh sorry I can’t go to the bar tonight so that I can save up for my two week trip to Europe”)
- I really appreciated the idea that Blake had always had a crush of sorts on Tina, even before she called him out in class (to set the wheels of the bet in motion). It totally removed what could have been, in my view, a very cliched and patronizing refrain of “Now I notice and appreciate her so much more that I have lived her life struggle! She’s like a diamond in the rough, strong and beautiful!” His admiration of her beauty and intelligence was established long before he knew her life story, and was only deepened by getting to know her more as a person — and not because she careened into his path like some Manic Pixie Poor Person.
Not sure what else to say to wrap this up. Read this; READ ALL THE COURTNEY MILAN! etc.