Wednesday, 17 May 2017
#CBR9 Book 46: "Alex, Approximately" by Jenn Bennett
Rating: 4.5 stars
Bailey "Mink" Rydell and "Alex" have been chatting on a movie message board for months and both absolutely love classic movies. They have hit it off to the point where "Alex" invites "Mink" to his hometown to come see North by Northwest at an outdoor screening on the beach at the annual film festival being arranged in Coronado Cove.
Bailey's parents got divorced a few years back, and now that Bailey's mother seems to be divorcing her new husband as well, Bailey has chosen to go stay with her father, who coincidentally lives in the same little surfer town in California as her online friend, "Alex". While she really wants to meet up with the guy she's pretty much developed a crush on, Bailey isn't stupid, and knows that people you meet online may not always be who they appear to be. So she doesn't want to let him know she's in Coronado Cove and she intends to track "Alex" down in the months before the film festival, to make sure he's actually a good guy.
While still keeping up her online conversations with "Alex", never letting him know that she's moved from New Jersey to California, Bailey also gets a summer job at the local museum, a huge mansion devoted to Golden Age Hollywood memorabilia, where she makes a friend in Grace and an enemy in Porter Roth, the sarcastic security guard who seems to delight in making her life a living hell. While she wants to hate Porter, Bailey can't deny he's pretty hot, and as the weeks pass, their enmity seems to be turning into something else. In her free time, she's still trying to track down "Alex" based on clues she's gleaned from their online conversation, but as the summer progresses, her quest gets side-tracked as her relationship with Porter keeps changing into something a lot more interesting. What Bailey doesn't know, of course, is that her erstwhile tormentor and enemy turned enigmatic love interest and her online movie buddy are one and the same. What will she do when she discovers that Alex and Porter are in fact the same person?
This book takes inspiration from The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail, with two people who are more or less falling in love online meeting in real life without knowing each other's true identities and initially absolutely hating each other. As the relationship progresses, they more or less feel like they're cheating on their online crush because of their real life romance, while in fact, it's the same person.
I've never seen The Shop Around the Corner. Unlike Bailey/Mink and Porter/Alex, I really am not usually a big fan of classic Hollywood movies. There are obviously exceptions, but I frequently find them frustrating and many of them have not aged well. I have watched You've Got Mail more than once, but am not a big fan, because while Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks may be worried about how they're sorta-kinda cheating on the person they're e-mailing with, they seem entirely unconcerned about the fact that they ARE cheating on their significant others. Both are in a relationship as the movie starts, and while they've never met the person they're so frequently corresponding with online, there is, to me, absolutely an element of emotional infidelity going on there. Then they meet in real life and start arguing, only to get more and more attracted to one another, just sort of ignoring their current partners. Plus there's the whole Tom Hanks is trying to run Meg Ryan out of business - it's not a great romantic comedy, guys. It's just not. While You Were Sleeping is tons better.
In this book, on the other hand, neither Bailey nor Porter are in a relationship, and Mink and Alex, while they've clearly flirted a bit while sharing their passion for classic movies have never made any declarations or promises to one another. Alex' invitation to Mink to come watch North by Northwest with him on a beech is clearly worded in such a way that Bailey/Mink knows it's intended as a date, all the romantic possibilities are sub-textual.
When they meet in real life, their initial animosity comes a lot from a series of misunderstandings and misconceptions about each other the first few times they meet. He believes her to be a privileged rich girl pretty much slumming it with her job at the museum, she thinks he's a bully and a thug, with some deeply unsavoury friends. Of course, her new friend Grace, who's known Porter for a long time, can tell that they're both off to a bad start and does her best to help clear up some of the skewed first impressions. Both realise that they may have been a bit harsh at first, and their relationship turns more friendly, and then begins to evolve into mutual attraction.
I read this book during the Spring Readathon, and it was a wonderful choice, as it was a fun and light-hearted read that kept me turning pages and kept me going late into the night. Each chapter starts with a quote from a film, and while I may not have the same movie tastes as Bailey and Porter, I very much approve of all the movies Ms. Bennett chose to include as chapter openers. So many of my favourites. Bailey and Porter are both good protagonists and seemed like pretty realistic teenagers to me. Both have some fairly traumatic events in their past, and one of the things Bailey, who calls herself the "Artful Dodger", needs to learn to deal with over the summer is how to actually communicate clearly. She has a tendency to just deflect when she's uncomfortable (which is also why she chose to move to her Dad's when her mother's new marriage was getting rocky). In the long run, that is clearly not a good coping strategy.
As well as giving the reader a very satisfying enemies to lovers scenario for YA readers, this book also has a good cast of supporting characters. Having moved several times since her parents' divorce, combined with the "Artful Dodger" thing that Bailey developed after the harrowing event in her past, means that she didn't leave behind any friends and hasn't really been close to anyone for a while, so getting to know Grace and Porter requires work and effort on her part, which again, seems very healthy for her. I really liked Grace, as well as the various parental figures (with the notable exception of Bailey's mum, who seems to completely forget about her daughter after she moves to California).
This book made me happy, but also a bit sad that they don't really make good romantic comedies anymore. As I said, I liked it a lot more than You've Got Mail, but if you are a fan of that film, you're sure to like this clever YA re-imagining. If you don't, well, this is way better, so you're likely to like this anyway.
Judging a book by its cover: Love the book, deeply dislike the cover, which just seems to portray a very impractical and slightly inconvenient way in which to view movies. Also, all those lights would make it impossible to see anything. I know this book is set in California, but at no point do people float around in a pool and try to share popcorn. Bailey and "Alex" have talked about meeting up for a film festival, where one of their favourite films is screened on a beach - that is NOT the same as this. I would hope both the film buffs in this book would reject the so-called movie watching experience on this cover.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.