Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales (2021 Release!)
Before I get into the review, I'm just so excited to be writing a book review! I hadn't finished a book since the end of September :(. Hopefully that's over now. Anyway...
Overview: Darcy is like Hannah Montana. Well, kinda. She's not a secret pop star, but she does have a hidden identity. She's the girl behind Locker 89, home of the best relationship advice in California. Or, at least, at her high school. People drop a letter and $10 in the locker, and Darcy collects them after school when her mom, a teacher there, stays late. This goes perfectly until Brougham catches her. While it's a minor disaster, he has a fascinating Australian accent and some traces of charm, and he ropes Darcy into giving him personal relationship coaching to win back his ex-girlfriend. But maybe he doesn't want his ex-girlfriend back after all? And maybe Darcy could get over her painful crush on her best friend? All you need to know is that Sophie wrote a love triangle I actually love (never thought I'd see that day). Overall: 5+++++
Characters: 5 I'm pretty sure Darcy and I are the same person. I love her sarcastic voice and her outlook on life. She's driven and ambitious. Her relationship advice business has grown so much because it works. Darcy has put in the time and research to understands how humans interact with each other. That doesn't make her own relationships any easier though. Darcy is hilarious and messy and relatable, and even when she takes her turn as the antagonist, you still get where she's coming from (or at least I do). I want Darcy to be my best friend. We even have the same taste in One Direction solo music.
On top of giving out romantic advice, Darcy is also a member of the Queer and Questioning Club. I love all the members of the club and the conversations that happen there. Through the club, and in life interactions in general, Darcy is comes into her own queerness. She's proudly bi throughout the book, but as her crushes shift and certain crushes cross the line into relationships, Darcy wonders if she can date a straight guy and still be "queer enough". While the answer is "of course she can", the way it's explored is so important and honest. Darcy has the conversations about being bi and being queer that need to be had just like this in an unfiltered way, placing all her fears up front. There are so many intricacies to being queer that sometimes the questions aren't around the identity in the first place and being comfortable with that but feeling enough of it. Also, there are still so many misconceptions around what it means to be bisexual or biromantic that centering these issues is paramount. There is so much biphobia that comes from pure ignorance that addressing it head on is incredibly important. This is such an vital book to have in YA for that reason. There are also amazing moments discussing asexuality and other identities through the club and through the letters that Darcy handles. For that reason alone, everyone needs to read this book.
Beyond Darcy, we have a full cast of amazing, developed characters. Starting off, Darcy's second in command is her sister, Ainsley, who is in community college now and lives at home with Darcy and her mom. Ainsley is trans, an amazing fashion designer, and always fighting with Darcy over the make-up samples that Brooke brings over. Ainsley is truly the best older sister anyone could ask for, and she's always there to support Darcy when she needs it most. As for the rest of her family, Darcy sees her dad a couple times a month. He's a pretty minor character, but I did like how she worked through some of his (seemingly unintentional) biphobic comments with the Q&Q club. She also confronts issues she has with her mom's removed, disinterested demeanor when Darcy tries to turn to her for advice. There's a super constructive series of moments that really model good parenting and coming to acknowledge flaws and mistakes.
Moving on to Darcy's friends, we first meet Brooke. Darcy's had a crush on Brooke from the start, but who wouldn't? Brooke is funny and sweet and bubbly. She works at a make-up counter and is always looking for Darcy's help on homework. Also, Brooke is a lesbian. Still, Darcy hasn't found a way to make a move, and Brooke finds herself caught up in an enemies to lovers relationship not with Darcy. Then there's Brougham who starts cold and aloof but turns out to be sarcastic and adorable. He lives in a mansion, but the house is constantly echoing with his parents shouting at each other. We learn a surprising amount about even Brougham's family. It made me so happy to watch Brougham start to open up. Everyone in this book is remarkably well developed. It makes for such an enriching reading experience.
Plot: 5 Like I teased you with in the synopsis, SOPHIE WROTE A LOVE TRIANGLE I AM IN LOVE WITH. I am love triangle hater number 1, so this is a big deal. But I genuinely loved both players, I could see merits to dating them both, and the way that the story progressed was so satisfying. I think it works 1. because all the characters are highly developed and 2. the plot has so many good twists and turns to both sides that everything unfolds super naturally. Also, everyone spends time in the friend zone at different points in the book. Through the entire book, it feels like you're truly watching messy, annoying, sometimes beautiful life play out. There isn't a moment in the entire story where I felt "author Sophie" reaching in to push two characters together or yank them apart. Every choice, every plot progression felt completely natural. There's a friendship plot thread, a family thread, a relationship thread, and the whole locker business to follow, and they intermingle in such a satisfying and all encompassing way.
Similarly, I get really irritated, often, when characters self sabotage because it often feels exaggerated for a plot point, but Sophie does an incredible job of spelling out motivation in an organic, understandable way. Even when I was thinking "don't do it, Darcy", I also had a sense of "I'd probably do that too". I guess this is all to say that this book makes sense in the most glorious way.
Writing: 5 You all already know I love the writing. The craft is exquisite, the voice perfectly on pitch with the story, and I want all these characters to be my new best friends. Usually, I have a couple minor complaints that I just don't include in my reviews, but I have literally nothing bad to say about this book. From a formatting/writing choice standpoint, I did want to note how I love most chapters starting with letters. Ever since I was a little kid, I always loved books that included letters, and these are brilliantly funny and relatable. Since they started each chapter, I always ended up reading more in one sitting than I intended cause I had to start the next chapter's letter, and then I was hooked!
The only thing that makes me sad about this book is that it's not out till March (but that's somehow only 4 months away?!). Still, I highly recommend preorder the book as a gift to your future self. If you'd like to support the blog and indie bookstores, with that preorder, I'd love it if you'd click here and use my Bookshop link to do it! This link means I might earn a small commission at no cost to you.
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