Book Review: Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye [MILD SPOILERS]

Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
Source: Borrowed

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

Kevin van Whye delivers an uplifting and poignant coming-out love story that will have readers rooting for these two teens to share their hearts with the world–and with each other.

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS

After seeing Date Me, Bryson Keller pop up on a bunch of recommendation lists and seeing a ton of rave reviews, I hopped right over to my library to put a hold on the audiobook. I really, really wanted to like this book. June was such a good reading month, but it ended on a bad note with this one.

I don’t even know where to begin.

Maybe with the pitch:

What If It’s Us meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before in this upbeat and heartfelt boy-meets-boy romance that feels like a modern twist on a ’90s rom-com!

I loved What If It’s Us and really liked To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I adore romantic comedies. This… this is possibly the worst comparison I’ve ever seen. If by “What If It’s Us,” you mean “this is a gay romance,” then okay, maybe. And if by “meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” you mean “that involves fake dating,” then I guess. But the rom-com? And especially a 90s rom-com? No. There was not one funny line in this book. This book is sadness on top of homophobia on top of drama.

But anyway, let’s move on to the premise. It’s weird, but I made a strong effort to suspend my disbelief so that I could get some enjoyment out of this book. The story goes that popular boy Bryson Keller has made a bet that he’ll go out with one new person each week. He has to agree to date the first person that asks him out on Monday morning until the end of the day on Friday. No funny business, nothing physical, but they’ll go out on dates. It’s all fake for the bet, but everyone is clamoring over themselves for the chance to date him. Presumed straight, Bryson only dates girls… until Kai Sheridan asks him out, and Bryson says yes. The stipulation is that they’ll fake date in secret, because Kai isn’t out yet. I don’t think I need to put the fact that they end up together under spoiler tags since there would be no book without it. They end up together. And I have many, many things to say.

A side note regarding the premise before I get started with my review: I have seen on Goodreads that the entire premise of this book is lifted directly from Seven Days by Venio Tachibana & Rihito Takarai, so make of that what you will. I haven’t read Seven Days so I can’t say if the stories play out in the same way.

I do want to preface this next part of my review by saying that I am a straight woman and therefore cannot actually comment on the LGBT rep in this book. I know that the author set out to write an ownvoices novel and that’s great. What I can comment on, though, is that the very strict gay/straight binary that every character is shoved into is very off-putting. Every character is gay or straight. Every character either likes boys or girls. Even Bryson Keller, who has only ever expressed interest in women and never had an inkling that he might not be 100% straight until he started fake dating Kai, is suddenly just… gay. He gets one “hmm, I might be bi” throwaway line before that’s completely tossed out the window. And I know it’s true that people can realize they’re gay after exclusively dating the opposite sex. I know that sexuality is a spectrum and can be fluid. I just worry that this “you’re either gay or straight and there’s no other choice” mentality is doing more harm than good.

Also, just something that confuses me. Typically, when you have a fake dating plot in a book, there’s a reason. Maybe you want to make someone jealous. Maybe you’re trying to keep someone safe. Maybe it’s for publicity or a job or citizenship. There are countless reasons for fake dating in a book, and they’re all very public. What is the point of fake dating in secret? That was something that bothered me throughout the entire book and there was never really an answer for me. I’m not saying that Kai and Bryson had to publicly date, because I understand that Kai wasn’t out (and neither was Bryson, I guess) but this just seemed to be the flimsiest possible excuse to have them spend more time together in a weird semi-platonic/semi-romantic way.

Next, the narration. OH MY GOD, the narration. It is the most overly descriptive, unnecessary blocks of text that I’ve read since Handbook for Mortals. Kai can’t just be sad. No, he has to narrate that he’s feeling sad, he’s crying, tears are running down his face, he’s experiencing emotions, his sadness is visible to anyone who looks at him. When he goes to drive, he has to tell us that he walks over to the bowl where his family keeps all the car keys and looks for the ones he’s looking for and finds them and then walks to the door and turns the knob and walks out the door to the car that he’s about to drive. Exhausting. Every mundane detail of life does not need to be narrated. The reader understands that the character needs keys to start the car, and if they somehow don’t, they probably won’t notice that you’ve left it out of the narration.

And can we talk about how overdramatic Kai is? Like, yes, I get it, teenagers are overdramatic. I was once an overdramatic teenager too. But Kai is on a whole different level. His parents, upon finding out that he’ll be going to a concert with another person, ask the perfectly reasonable question of who that person is. And Kai just flips out. He’s like “OH MY GOD MOM AND DAD STOP WITH THE THIRD DEGREE, WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS TRYING TO BE SHERLOCK AND WATSON GOD I’M JUST GOING TO A CONCERT.” Maybe times have changed, but back when I was an overdramatic teenager living under my mother’s roof, she did expect to know where I was going and who I was going there with, especially if it was out of town.

Moving on from that, though, is the fact that this book, marketed as a gay YA rom-com, is just sad. People get outed against their will. Parents are unsupportive. Friends are unsupportive. There are multiple fights. Homophobia runs rampant. And while the overarching point might be “there’s nothing wrong with being gay,” it sure takes a long time to get there.

Random other gripes: The constant use of Harry Potter references. Unrealistic dialogue. The last line being “Gay means happy too.” Why do the characters use the word “ointment” so much? Are they talking about Vaseline or something? I’m confused. (I’m just getting petty now, I’ll stop.)

In the end, I’m not really sure why I gave this book two stars. Maybe because it just wasn’t on the same level of dislike as my recent one-stars. Definitely not recommended, though.


Have you read Date Me, Bryson Keller? What’s the last book that disappointed you?
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Mini-Reviews: Check Please! Book 2, Camp Spirit, & Spinning

Check, Please! Book 2 by Ngozi Ukazu
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Eric Bittle is heading into his junior year at Samwell University, and not only does he have new teammates―he has a brand new boyfriend! Bitty and Jack must navigate their new, secret, long-distance relationship, and decide how to reveal their relationship to friends and teammates. And on top of that, Bitty’s time at Samwell is quickly coming to an end…It’s two full hockey seasons packed with big wins and high stakes!

A collection of the second half of the mega-popular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: Sticks and Scones is the last in a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

I loved that the second Check, Please! book dealt with some deeper themes while still being just as heartwarming and sweet as the first. Bitty and Jack are such a great couple, always communicating and being there for each other. Bitty’s baking is still front and center and I absolutely loved it.

In a possibly unpopular opinion, I thought the ending was really stereotypical and it wasn’t my favorite, but I didn’t dislike it enough for it to lower my rating.


Camp Spirit by Axelle Lenoir
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 23, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Summer camp is supposed to be about finding nirvana in a rock garden… But Elodie prefers Nirvana and Soundgarden. Can she confront rambunctious kids, confusing feelings, and supernatural horrors all at once?

Summer 1994: with just two months left before college, Elodie is forced by her mother to take a job as a camp counselor. She doesn’t know the first thing about nature, or sports, of kids for that matter, and isn’t especially interested in learning… but now she’s responsible for a foul-mouthed horde of red-headed girls who just might win her over, whether she likes it or not. Just as Elodie starts getting used to her new environment, though — and close to one of the other counselors — a dark mystery lurking around the camp begins to haunt her dreams.

This was a quick and easy read. The art was cute, the romance was done well, the story was… fine. I would have liked more elaboration on what was happening in the woods since it never felt fully explained. While I felt the actual camp counseling and the romance were fun to read about, I can’t say the same for the rest of the plot. The more supernatural aspects of this graphic novel were fun on the sidelines, but when they became front and center pieces of the plot, they fell short for me.

Overall, this was fun, but I’m not sure that I’d really recommend it.


Spinning by Tillie Walden
Rating: ★★★★★
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point? The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion–and she finally needed to find her own voice.

Spinning is the second graphic novel I’ve read by Tillie Walden (the first being I love this part), and I think I can officially add her to my list of favorite graphic novelists. There’s just something about her art style and the way she tells the majority of the story through the art rather than words that I love.

Spinning is the story of her years as a competitive figure skater. But it’s also the story of coming out, trauma, and growing up. This was an incredible book, and I can’t wait to devour everything Walden’s ever published.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Book Review: You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 7, 2020
Source: Gift

Naomi Westfield has the perfect fiancé: Nicholas Rose holds doors open for her, remembers her restaurant orders, and comes from the kind of upstanding society family any bride would love to be a part of. They never fight. They’re preparing for their lavish wedding that’s three months away. And she is miserably and utterly sick of him.

Naomi wants out, but there’s a catch: whoever ends the engagement will have to foot the nonrefundable wedding bill. When Naomi discovers that Nicholas, too, has been feigning contentment, the two of them go head-to-head in a battle of pranks, sabotage, and all-out emotional warfare.

But with the countdown looming to the wedding that may or may not come to pass, Naomi finds her resolve slipping. Because now that they have nothing to lose, they’re finally being themselves–and having fun with the last person they expect: each other.

When your nemesis also happens to be your fiancé, happily ever after becomes a lot more complicated in this wickedly funny, lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy debut.

I originally wanted to read You Deserve Each Other because of all the reviews I’d seen comparing it to The Hating Game (which we all know is one of my all-time favorites). And going off of that, I will almost certainly enjoy any enemies-to-lovers book, so I put a hold on this at the library. And I waited. And waited. And waited. And then my fiance, being absolutely amazing, bought it for me.

Unlike most enemies-to-lovers books, this one starts with the couple already engaged. Although they were madly in love at some point, Naomi and Nicholas’s relationship has devolved into arguments and pettiness. They don’t communicate at all, preferring to make assumptions and walk away from conversations. I wasn’t sure how I would react to this, but it ended up feeling really realistic and it was done with enough humor in the narration that it was still fun to read.

I can’t even tell you how many times I laughed while reading this book. I love some good banter, and this book has so much of it. Naomi’s internal monologue especially was so sarcastic and so entertaining that I read like 150 pages of this book without even realizing that time had gone by. But it’s also sad. It was a little bit heartbreaking to read about this couple that used to love each other so much turning down this path of intense dislike. That piece of the book made me really emotional and I had to go hug my fiance and tell him I love him many times.

I liked the first half of this book, but the second half is what really made it for me. Because in the second half, Nicholas and Naomi start making an effort. Taking all of that sarcastic and petty energy and turning it against other people instead of against each other just warmed my heart. I love a good love story, and it was so nice to watch Nicholas and Naomi fall back in love with each other.

The only thing that made me lower my rating of this book was that, in my head, I was screaming, “JUST BREAK OFF THE ENGAGEMENT IF YOU’RE SO UNHAPPY!” I know this is explained away by all of the nonrefundable deposits, but it was always in the back of my mind. I would have also liked to know a bit more about what Nicholas was thinking since he’s kind of an elusive character, especially at the beginning of the book. Everything we know about him comes from Naomi, and she’s so annoyed with him and makes so many assumptions that it’s hard to know where he stood on everything that was happening.

All in all, though, this book was a lot of fun. If you like romantic comedies and enemies-to-lovers, you’ll probably like this.


Have you read You Deserve Each Other? Is it on your TBR?
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Mini-Reviews: Pride, Beneath the Sugar Sky, & Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Pride and Prejudice gets remixed in this smart, funny, gorgeous retelling of the classic, starring all characters of color, from Ibi Zoboi, National Book Award finalist and author of American Street.

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

I hesitated to pick up Pride because of all of the mixed reviews I’d seen when it first came out, but I’m glad that I finally picked it up.

This ended up being a great modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I absolutely loved that it was set in Brooklyn. Pride pretty seamlessly weaves in some commentary on issues like gentrification, class, and the leaking of nudes without coming across like a lecture. It’s easy to see the parallels with the original, but the book still feels like it tells its own story rather than being a direct copy.

As for negatives, I felt that some scenes went on for a little too long and got a little repetitive. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Zuri and Darius’s relationship since it went from hate to love very quickly, but I guess it also does in the original. But those are pretty minor complaints, and overall, I really enjoyed this book.


Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Source: Borrowed

When Rini lands with a literal splash in the pond behind Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the last thing she expects to find is that her mother, Sumi, died years before Rini was even conceived. But Rini can’t let Reality get in the way of her quest – not when she has an entire world to save! (Much more common than one would suppose.)

If she can’t find a way to restore her mother, Rini will have more than a world to save: she will never have been born in the first place. And in a world without magic, she doesn’t have long before Reality notices her existence and washes her away. Good thing the student body is well-acquainted with quests…

A tale of friendship, baking, and derring-do.

Warning: May contain nuts.

As someone who absolutely loves baking, it probably comes as no surprise that my favorite world (so far) in the Wayward Children series is Confection. This nonsense world is filled with whimsical things like a moon made of frosting and a sea made of strawberry rhubarb soda. Not everything is perfect in Confection, though. Like the other worlds, it has its own undercurrent of danger.

Since I loved the world (and the writing) so much, I probably would have given this novella five stars if we’d followed characters from the original book. It is true that Christopher and Kade are here, but our main character is someone entirely new. While this was fine and ended up working out in the end, it did leave me feeling a little disconnected from everything at the beginning.

Overall, though, I’m a big fan of this series and would highly recommend it.


Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Lara Jean is having the best senior year.

And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

Possibly unpopular opinion time: I don’t think this needed to be a series. I really enjoyed To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but while the writing was still good in P.S. I Still Love You, I didn’t like the plot and it felt completely unnecessary. I feel the same about Always and Forever, Lara Jean. The writing was good, but let’s be honest. Did this book even have a plot?

This book also uses one of my least favorite tropes:breaking up because a parent tells you to. What a cop-out for drama. I’m still waiting to read a book that features a parent doing this and a main character that stands up to them, because what kind of nonsense is this? It makes me so angry.

In the end, all I can really say is that this is a cute series, but it really could have stopped after the first book.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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Book Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 10, 2005
Source: Borrowed

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.

I’ve read many of David Levithan’s books over the years with varying degrees of success. The Lover’s Dictionary and You Know Me Well are two of my favorite books, while Every Day is… not. I’ve been reading one of his backlist books every few months, and the most recent is Boy Meets Boy.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! I think the first thing that I want to say about this book is that it’s cute. It’s almost a utopia in which people are just accepted as they are. That seems to be the main criticism of this book — that it’s too happy. But so many books about gay teens are heartbreaking, and we get a ton of fluffy, happy heterosexual romances. There’s nothing wrong with an overtly happy book about a gay kid. In fact, I think it’s something that should happen way more often than it does.

But despite the generally happy tone, this book does tackle some more serious issues. There are multiple characters who struggle with their sexuality, and there are a few characters (definitely in the minority) who don’t accept our main characters. (There’s also a minor cheating storyline that kind of came out of nowhere and that I didn’t care for.)

Overall, though, this book was really, really good. If you’re looking for a cute book about an LGBTQ utopia, you’ll probably enjoy this one.


Have you read Boy Meets Boy? Is it on your TBR?
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