When I reviewed Anna and the French Kiss I mentioned that while I would consider that book New Adult, I still had a tough time being invested in the romantic life of high school seniors. College, fine, that works for me. So when I reviewed the Contemporary/New Adult The Year We Fell Down I had no trouble with the age of the characters or believing their life in college. Which is what I kept thinking about when I settled on a rating of three stars for Courtney Milan’s Trade Me – I just didn’t ever truly buy into their set up and existence in college, and it kept me from truly enjoying the book.
Let’s start with what works (spoilers):
- In a move that I appreciate from authors in the New Adult genre, our leading lady Tina is neither completely inexperienced or a prude. Tina has hang-ups about being intimate with Blake, but they are not about the physical, they are about the emotional. This I can relate to.
- Like all Milan books this work highlights social issues with a deft hand, weaving them into the fabric of the story. Blake with his bajillionty (I’m going with my made up word) dollars is removed from ‘the real world’ but doesn’t want to be. Tina’s family is refugees from China, and the subplot with her mom and working with their friends and community on the immigration process was powerful stuff.
- Our dashing hero does not fall into hero tropes, and is instead believable and with issues of his own that go beyond just his daddy/inheritance issues. Here Milan swims into deep water by having the male protagonist be dealing with an eating disorder based on control. In her author’s note (which I am an avowed fan of) Milan talks through how she came to write this plot and what she based it on. Important work as well.
- No instalove, no whiny angst.
- The parent relationships. Seriously, I want a whole novella of just Blake and Mr. Chen hanging out on the couch. The banter between Tina and Adam is pretty great too.
- MARIA. I am thrilled that she is going to be the lead in the next book in the series and that Milan is going to be tackling issues of gender identity and the transgender community. Let’s. Do. This.
So if so much was good, what didn’t float my boat?
- Tina and Blake’s connection and chemistry suffered a case of tell not show. Milan has these characters TELL us how they feel, but they don’t show it that well.
- Even though it was handled about as well as can be expected Blake’s bajillionty dollar life trade with Tina just never felt plausible or believable.
- We got stuck in a feedback loop of “this is never going to work” by each character. Too long, the middle of the book dragged.
- For a character super concerned with being able to keep up with her studies WE NEVER SEE TINA IN CLASS OR DOING SCHOOLWORK FOR THE FINAL TWO THIRDS OF THE NOVEL.
- While I am accustomed to Milan’s style of writing good but not abundant smexy times, this book felt like a desert.
- I need more explanation about Blake’s parentage, and that better be coming in later books. I thought for sure we were headed to a plot point where Blake finds out that his dad is actually gay, and that’s why he’s so broken up about the death of his partner is why he is being such a demanding mess and not noticing Blake’s issues. But, apparently, no.
Also, and I may be the only one who feels this way, the last 15% of the book when things went all kinds of crazy off the rails really worked for me. This all leaves me rating this book three stars, slightly better than Talk Sweetly to Me, but not much. I remain excited about Hold Me, which will be out later this year and will be working my way through the Worth Saga soon-ish.