I read Alexis Daria’s Take the Lead after seeing it on Entertainment Weekly’s best romances of 2017. Take the Lead was Daria’s debut novel and has now been somewhat reworked for a rerelease. While I did not have the time to reread the earlier version, my impression is that she’s taken an already good book, tightened it up, added a little, and made it better.
Gina Morales is a professional dancer on the reality dance competition. Going into her fifth season on the show, she has never made the finals. This season she wants to win. Stone Nielson is already on an Alaskan wilderness reality show with his family. He hates it, but his family needs the money. He’s agreed to be a celebrity contestant on Dance Off to help with his mother’s medical bills, and maybe pay off his student loans (relatable). His family’s reality show is based on a lie, which puts Stone under additional pressure. Gina and Stone are paired to take advantage of the drama their differences will create, and capitalize on a possible romance. Neither wants to feed into a fake romance storyline, but as their real romance grows the balance between being honest and being private becomes difficult.
One of the things that struck me on this read was how deftly Daria builds the relationship between Gina and Stone. There is an instant attraction, but they don’t know each other. Daria deftly shows them getting to know each other in the crucible of a reality show. The forced proximity and need to become a team on camera fosters the friendship and affection off camera.
The ending of the first published version was, by far, the weakest part of the book. With a small change and an epilogue, Alexis Daria gives Stone and Gina and ending that’s fully consistent with their characters. This was a great read. I’m so glad she got the opportunity to rework and expand her debut novel.
I received this as an advance reader copy from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley. My opinions are my own, freely and honestly given.