Who Do You Love starts with our protagonist’s heartbreak, then rewinds to her as an eight-year-old girl, meeting the boy who, spoilers, she ends up loving. Each chapter alternates viewpoints between Rachel, our eight-year-old with a heart condition, and Andy, the impoverished boy growing up with a single mother, skipping ages willy-nilly until they come together at some undisclosed later time – in their thirties, I guess? Oddly, the timeline is quite clear about aging them up until the last few chapters. The interplay is meant to contrast their lives and upbringings – Rachel, who is comfortably well-off to wealthy, but who was very sick as a child and so sheltered and overprotected, and Andy, who wants for much, though he has a warm mother dedicated to his care. Mostly it does a reasonably good job of this, so neither character comes out spoiled or starved, and you get a decent sense of how their upbringings molded them.
This book hits all the normal notes, making it a pleasant read without too much weight or depth. There’s the standard misunderstanding-style break-up around the 75% mark, and then a character too proud to amend the situation using their words, so more time than needs to goes by while both participants are upset with, but ultimately still in love with, the other. The book spends a fair bit of time with them as they’re in their twenties, so you actually get to see them together before the break, which is uncommon, but they reunite on literally the last page of the book, so the last hundred pages or so are the part when they’re both trying to forge lives apart. This book actually keeps them apart for years though, an interesting decision, as you get to see the wrong-ness of the lives they settle into. Generally speaking, that’s too bad, since not only is it a standard trope, you can see what draws them together; they genuinely like each other and are hilarious together, with a teasing, flirtatious relationship that feels more real than your usual “these people can’t live without each other for no real reason”.
Nitpicks with this book? For one, the changing viewpoint, from Rachel’s first person to Andy’s third, felt a little odd – switching back and forth between the narratives and persons made it feel a little less smooth and polished. Second, though, is Rachel’s slightly strange attitude – she’s a social worker, and the book tries to suggest that meeting Andy and the parts of their lives that they shared has helped her to feel for the less fortunate and helped her to develop her empathy and “big heart”. To be fair, she isn’t mean, and she never says anything aloud in the book, but her inner dialogue makes me wonder about that heart. At one point, as her client gives her a tissue and consoles her over her heartbreak, her inner dialogue is judging the woman for buying brand-name Kleenex, even though Rachel has told her many times that generic is just as good. I’m not a social worker, so maybe this is what they do, maybe that’s how you social work, but reading that scene made me want to shake her. Really? This woman is consoling you and you think about how she blows her money on Kleenex? Is this seriously the most important thing in either of your lives right now? She has this attitude towards a number of her interactions with families at work, and again, maybe that’s how you’re supposed to social work, but it just feels judgey and weird, like she suspects her clients of being bad at being poor.
All the same, a fairly standard formula with a somewhat unusual implementation. Andy and Rachel together are cute and fun, and while I was never super invested, I had a good time reading this book.