Nozomi thinks she can easily craft the perfect love story, but when she sets off for a summer of transformation, she learns that sometimes life and love are so much better when they are unexpected.
From the Blurb:
When Nozomi Nagai pictured the ideal summer romance, a fake one wasn’t what she had in mind.
That was before she met the perfect girl. Willow is gorgeous, glamorous, and…heartbroken? And when she enlists Nozomi to pose as her new girlfriend to make her ex jealous, Nozomi is a willing volunteer.
Because Nozomi has a master plan of her own: one to show Willow she’s better than a stand-in, and turn their fauxmance into something real. But as the lies pile up, it’s not long before Nozomi’s schemes take a turn toward disaster…and maybe a chance at love she didn’t plan for.
What struck me most about this book was just how innovative it is. As a romance novel lover and a YA enthusiast, I have read my fair share of fake dating schemes. But this time, there were twists and turns that were completely unexpected. The story was nuanced and grounded in the truth of the experience, rather than just following the usual beats of the expected plot.
Nozomi is a lovable main character and you feel for her from the beginning. I think everyone can relate to the fantasy of becoming a different, more exciting version of yourself and we can also all remember a time where simply having the undivided attention of our crush felt like the greatest gift.
This familiarity and reliability makes it impossible not to root for her, even when you know she is making a mistake, and your heart breaks for her when she struggles to both be true to herself and get the things she wants.
There are two stories at the core of this novel: the first is the love square. The other three women involved — Willow, Dela and Arden — are all brilliant and specific in their own ways, and while you are hoping Nozomi will find love, you still want things to work out for everyone else involved.
All four characters are queer women of color, which is still much too rare in the stories that make it to publication. What’s so great about this diverse love story is that no one is responsible for carrying every element of their identities on their shoulders. They all have room to be their own person and to tell their own story. They are each dealing with something different, and are written with compassion and refreshing honesty.
The second plot line revolves around Nozomi’s family. She and her brother Max are spending the summer with their Uncle Stephen and his husband, Lance, in part to help with their grandmother, Baba, who is having memory difficulties and might not be able to live on her own much longer. While this is happening, her parents have also recently divorced. Needless to say, Nozomi’s summer is full of complications that have nothing to do with her love life.
As with the love square, the family story is written with a great deal of compassion, though maybe not as much specificity. Nozomi and Max have a hilarious (though maybe a little stereotypical) big-brother-little-sister dynamic, and I wish we got to spend a bit more time with Stephen and Lance.
The most challenging part of the novel for me, was the relationship between Baba and Nozomi.
The idea that the people we love, and who are suppose to love us no matter what, might not be able to accept who we are, is one of the most heartbreaking truths and this story does not shy away from it. Nor does it shy away from the fact that sometimes kids have to be the ones to forgive and accept the mistakes of their parents.
That can be an incredibly challenging tightrope to walk, and my favorite thing about those questions in this book is that no one suggests that all the problems and hurt feelings can be fixed in a single summer.
Figuring out who we are and what we want can be a painful process, and we all make mistakes. What I absolutely love about this story though is that not only is Nozomi able to reevaluate and admit that what she thought she wanted was not actually right for her, but she is also able to own up to her mistakes and take steps to fix what she has broken (both figuratively and literally).
Life is never as simple as the movies (or even YA romance books) make it out to be, and as disappointing as that lesson can be to learn, it’s a really important one. And this book manages to express that in a beautifully written, hilarious set of summer misadventures.
And, like any good romance, love always finds a way in the end.