The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon: Romance Review
Overview: Shay Goldstein was born to be on public radio. She used to pretend to host a radio show with her dad when she was a little kid, and she was crushed when he passed away. Now that she's getting ready for her first hosting gig, Shay feels like she's making him proud. Well... mostly proud. He always loved the truth that radio brought out and her new show is built on a little white lie- the idea that she used to date her co-host Dominic Yun. Though they bicker like exes, they never actually dated (though they might be currently?). As the popularity of the show takes off, all of Shay's dreams are coming true, and she might actually have found her dream guy too. And then everything falls apart. But it's a romance, so I think we all know how this ends. Overall: 5
Perfect for: enemies to lovers fans
Characters: 5 I love Shay and Dominic and their show producer, Ruthie. They're all just great. Shay is super relatable. She's always been nervous about change, and she's nervous about adulthood, even though she's almost a decade into it. Most of the time, she feels like she's just waiting around for a real adult to come explain everything to her. Even her house feels like an adulting front. She's only ever worked at the station, and she's sometimes insecure about that as she approaches 30. I was nervous about trying adult books for the first time because I wasn't sure how I'd be able to relate to an actual adult (though it's not like I really relate to juniors in high school directly anyway?), but I felt like Shay and I could've been friends. For a lot of the time I read YA, I was reading up, learning about high school and college through those books, and this felt like a comforting return to that future glimpse that I haven't experienced in a while.
Dominic makes the perfect love interest. He's quite proud of his master's degree and confident in his abilities straight out of grad school, but he's endearing from the start. You can see the glimmers of a good love interest. He turns out to be sweet, sensitive, attentive, and actually perfect. I mean, he's flawed like everyone else, but in the right ways. Dominic is always so good to Shay, even when he can't always do exactly the right thing, and that's what I want in a romance. I'm tired of the "bad boy" trope. Being nice is awesome.
There's a couple close secondary characters that add variety to the story. Ruthie produces the show with Shay, and she becomes a supportive friend when Shay needs to talk to someone new. There's also Ameena and TJ. They're not as developed as some of the other secondary characters, but they represent longterm friendship for Shay, and as they consider moving away, Shay has to navigate another hurtle of adulthood. We briefly meet Dominic's family, but the focus is mainly on Shay's. Shay struggles with her mom getting remarried, less because she's moving on from her dad, and more because she thought she'd be next to have a wedding. Her mom's wedding planning makes Shay feel increasingly behind in life, even though she loves her future step-dad Phil and how good he is for her mom. Finally, at the station, there's Kent, the station manager. He's clearly sexist and has some major problems he hides under the veil of being "nice". Shay often feels weird about his comments or how he only ever asks the women present to take notes or how he immediately defers to Dominic when they're all in a meeting. It becomes increasingly apparent over the course of the book, and it's helpful to see the way Shay navigates that.
Plot: 5 I didn't want to put this book down. I was surprised, actually, to find out how much romance and fan fiction have in common. They hit similar beats and prize similar elements of the story that aren't prioritized as often in literary fiction or even YA. It has the same fun, indulgent feeling as you relish the quiet glances when you know they're meant to be. It's pretty amazing how gripping this book is considering you know they're going to end up together in the end. I have to give all romance authors a million rounds of applause for creating stories worth reading with an ending that's fundamentally "spoiled". I was mostly riveted by the course that the show took because it was built on a lie that was bound to come undone. That element kept me constantly on edge as they navigated the show growing bigger than they could really contain.
Writing: 5 The only reason I even thought to pick this book up is because I've loved all of Rachel's YA books. As intimidated as I was to jump an age group, I knew at the very least I already love the way Rachel tells stories. I'll probably explore the genre purely from my YA favorites branching out for now. I'm pretty sure I love this one maybe even more than some of her YA books. I truly have fallen for Shay and Dominic, and the public radio setting is extremely intriguing because I already love audio based storytelling and podcasts. Rachel blends the romance elements perfectly with the work subplot and blends in plenty of personal background to fill out their worlds and make them totally realized human beings. I feel like authors sometimes forget to develop the main character and love interest outside of their world together, but Rachel makes sure we completely know them as people.
This book just made me incredibly happy. It forced me to make times for books again in a way that I haven't since the semester started again. And for everyone out there who is hesitant about making the leap out of YA, I'd say The Ex Talk is the perfect place to start.
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