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?
Let’s talk in the comments!