First off, wow, that cover. A book featuring a clinch with a beautiful plus-sized heroine? Epically gorgeous. This is a masterwork of outgrowing toxic family, of being your true self, and a love letter to fandom. I absolutely adored it.
April is simply one of my favorite heroines ever. One thing I love about Olivia Dade’s work is how well she writes fat characters. Sure, there is some fatphobia in the book from other characters, but April herself loves herself and her body, and pushes back against those comments (including one particularly memorable scene). But what you really need to know about April is that she’s a humongous geology nerd and a prolific fanfic writer, specifically for the Aeneas/Lavinia pairing from Gods of the Gates, a wildly popular fantasy TV show based on a book series. Her best friend in the world, in fact, is a fellow fanfic writer and critique partner, someone who she’s only ever chatted with online but someone she’s shared so much with. Unbeknownst to her, however, her fanfic partner is Marcus, the actor who actually plays Aeneas on the show. And she can’t ever know, unfortunately, because if anyone ever found out about Marcus’s extremely critical of the show fanfic, his career would be over. So when a series of (extremely nerdy, extremely sweet) events leads to Marcus going on a date with a fan, and when he realizes that fan is his online best friend… well, he’s in a bind. Especially when he finds that she’s just as smart, funny and sweet in person as she is online, and he can’t be his true self with her.
“Smart, accomplished, passionate women were his undoing, always, even though he knew—he knew—he’d never be enough for them. Not the fake him, and not the real him, either.”
In public, it’s easier for Marcus to pretend to be vacuous and vain. Marcus is dyslexic. This caused endless problems for him growing up as the child of two professors, who were generally perplexed how two such intelligent people raised, well, him. No matter how hard he tried, he was still a failure to his parents, so eventually he just gave up and assumed his himbo personality: vain, friendly, but not very bright. The thing that made him finally enjoy reading? Fanfic about his show, especially his character, something where he was the expert. Writing fanfic, and the community he found through that, has been a lifesaver for him, especially given how awful the past season’s scripts have been. But spending time with April is even better, and their relationship was amazing for me, too. Their chemistry, their banter, even their rights really struck a chord for me.
“Millions of people could recognize him under the blinding lights of a red carpet. But if she touched him like this long enough, maybe she’d be able to recognize him even in the darkness, by feel alone, in a way that made him uniquely hers.”
While the source of the bleak moment is at its heart a communications issue, it’s also absolutely heartbreaking and imminently understandable. Marcus is so afraid of showing his true self, so terrified that he’ll lose April, that I had a hard time holding his big secret against him. And besides that secret, they’re honestly quite good at communicating with each other, especially when Marcus unknowingly runs into things that hurt April. They are both dealing with a ton of toxic family baggage from families that consider them “less than” and in need of fixing, and one of my absolute favorite parts of the book is April being so supportive of Marcus when dealing with his family, affirming that he doesn’t owe them forgiveness just because they’re his parents. I may have gotten a bit teary-eyed, honestly. Luckily, the chapters are interspersed with bits of fanfic, Marcus’s past movie scripts, and other bits of hilarity.
“As we’re both aware—all too aware—some scriptwriters believe death and misery and stagnation are more clever, more meaningful, and more authentic to reality than love and happiness and change. But life isn’t all misery, and finding a path through hard, hard lives to joy is tough, clever, meaningful work.”
Oh hey, yeah, let’s just throw in a blistering defense of the entire romance genre in the epilogue, shall we? Overall, this book brought all the feels, and it’s definitely going straight to my comfort read shelf. Highly recommended!