This book is fluent in the language of romance novels and it shows. It is heartfelt and sweet and full of tropes and it knows it. Enemies to lovers, forced partnership, small hiding spot for two – the works. It’s a romance novel that loves romance novels, and it wants you to too. It’s the type of book I feel is perfectly positioned for high schoolers because of much of it is about not being ashamed of loving what you love, especially if what you love is romance novels. It is a full-throated defense of the genre, aimed at people who are just learning society thinks they should be shameful. I adored it.
Our main character and narrator is Rowan, starting her final day of high school with her standard early morning text from her nemesis, Neil. The two of them have been neck-and-neck in everything for four years: student council races, essay contests, valedictorian, you name it. The final tradition of their school is Howl, a city-wide scavenger hunt meets Steal the Bacon, and Rowan overhears a group of classmates banding together to hunt down her and Neil so they of course have to team up to survive – and finally learn who each other really are along the way. Rowan reads and even writes romance novels, something she’s learned to hide as she got older. Her friends mock them, her writer parents don’t seem them a real literature, even her feud with Neil stems from his complete dismissal of the genre, so the book is also Rowan’s journey to fully accepting this part of herself and demanding that the people who say they love her do the same.
Unexpectedly for me, this book also delves into micro (and not so micro) aggressions of anti-Semitism. To me (a gentile) it came across as a way to again teach young adults the ways they might not even had realized they were alienating their Jewish classmates, friends, and community members and also serve as a reminder to grown adults to keep a watchful eye for these kind of behaviors.
A few sample of romance defending:
Here is my dilemma: my passion is, at best, someone else’s guilty pleasure. Most of the world takes any opportunity to belittle this thing that centers women in a way most other media doesn’t. Romance novels are a punch line, despite being a million-dollar industry.
But what I’ll never understand is why people are so quick to trash this one thing that’s always been for women first. They won’t let us have this one thing that isn’t hurting anyone and makes us happy. Nope, if you like romance novels, you have zero taste or you’re a lonely spinster.
Most movies and shows I watched with my friends showed me that women were sex objects, accessories, plot points. The books I read proved they were wrong.
It’s a sweet, wonderful g-d book. Read it.