Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Lynn Painter - Better Than the Movies

Liz Buxbaum has always known that Wes Bennett was not boyfriend material. You would think that her next-door neighbor would be a prince candidate for her romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only proven himself to be a pain in the butt, ever since they were little. Wes was the kid who put a frog in her Barbie Dreamhouse, the monster who hid a lawn gnome's severed head in her little homemade neighborhood book exchange.
Flash forward ten years from the Great Gnome Decapitation. It's Liz's senior year, a time meant to be rife with milestones perfect for any big screen, and she needs Wes's help. See, Liz's forever crush, Michael, has just moved back to town, and—horribly, annoyingly—he's hitting it off with Wes. Meaning that if Liz wants Michael to finally notice her, and hopefully be her prom date, she needs Wes. He's her in.
But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz her magical prom moment, she's shocked to discover that she actually likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own perception of what Happily Ever After should really look like.

Comment: I had a book by this author in the TBR list, and when I saw some positive reviews about this one, I recognized the author's name and decided to add it too. I didn't pay attention but since the other book I have is an adult contemporary, I've made the wrong assumption this would be as well, and it isn't. 

In this story we meet Liz, she is a teenager thinking about prom and what life will be like when she leaves for college, but she is also thinking about the fact many of these milestones won't be seen by her mother, who died years ago. Liz still misses her but life did go on and now she needs a date for prom and since friendly Michael is back and he used to be her crush, she realizes he remains as appealing as before and plans on becoming closer to him again. The problem is how to approach him, so she asks her neighbor Wes for help. She and Wes have been "enemies" since they were children but he still accepts to give her a hand now. However, there is a problem, Liz can't remember Wes being this funny, this helpful and perhaps she needs to think who she really wants to go with her to prom...

I confess I was caught unaware because this book happens to be a YA story, and years ago I've made a decision to stay away from these types of books, especially if they are meant to be romances, because so much about the dynamics annoyed me and the romance always failed to impress me, since the protagonists are young. I went even further by sometimes reading YA if it was an historical or an M/M but not contemporary F/M because often it would include love triangles and... argh!

Well, as it were, that was precisely what the plot of this story was focused about. It is true the main concept is about Liz realizing her mother's memory will never leave her, no matter what she does in life or what choices she has, but the action itself is heavily set on a teenager doing teenager stuff and to be truly honest, I was annoyed at teenagers when I was one, and even more now that I am not. This to say that while the book isn't bad and there are some interesting notions (although incredibly predictable) to think of, I was still not that impressed because this genre no longer seduces me and because of the love triangle.

The story is easy to read, the writing is fluid and all that, but the content was not something I particularly like now. Liz is a special enough heroine, I think the author did a good job on showing us how Liz still tries to hold on to her mother's memory and what she believes her mother would do and say if she were still alive, and of course this can be emotional. I especially liked how Liz' father married again and her stepmother Helena seems to be a good person, but there is still some tension there, even though Liz likes her enough. If the plot had been more about this or something else than the obvious love triangle, I might have enjoyed the book more too.

I'd say this is one of those stories that would work beautifully as a movie, for it only explores some superficial ideas, even if they do matter. I think Liz is a smart character but I can't think that while she emotionally understands a few things, she doesn't others? To me, this made the story feel too predictable, because it's supposed to lead to a certain climax and there wasn't any element regarding that which would make this a much better story than others before. I still think some emotional scenes with Liz and her stepmother, or Liz and Wes were interesting ,but nothing beyond that.

Apart from all the usual teenage stuff that is often included in these stories, the love triangle was so... well I suppose I should feel glad this isn't some weird story where these characters are eroticized way further than they had to, and there wasn't much about that side of things, but the love triangle definitely was there. Liz likes Michael for the memories he elicited on her, but of course anyone would see how Wes is perfect for her. It is also a little frustrating how Liz sees her life as a rom-com, especially since she and her mother would watch those movies together, and the clues are so glaring and she still doesn't think about what Wes means to her sooner.

I suppose I can accept that it's always easier to see things when it's not about us, but this situation made for a slightly repetitive story and I only kept reading because the writing was appealing, that is true. Besides that, this story followed all the usual patterns, such as the love triangle reaching a climax scene when Liz had just realized Wes was the boy she liked, and immediately following that, other problems happened because she had been lying about why she was spending time with Wes.... I mean, things that feel rather juvenile, but these are teenagers after all...

As a whole, this was easy to read, not that bad in terms of development, but it's a genre that no longer really appeals to me. If I had not read it, I don't think I'd have missed much, now that I did read it. 
I hope the adult contemporary I still have in the pile to read will prove to be appealing, in terms of style of writing, since this was not too bad despite my lack of interest in the YA genre.
Grade: 6/10

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