Saturday, 9 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 111: "Why I Loathe Stirling Lane" by Ingrid Paulson

Page count: 287 pages
Rating: 4 stars

It's probably safe to say that Harper Campbell has a Type A personality. In fact, in order to cope after the death of her mother, Harper has developed exactly 537 rules that help keep her life orderly and predictable, both academically and socially (not that she has much of a social life to speak of). Her first rule is to always take care of her twin brother, Cole, who seems to have gotten himself into some fairly serious trouble recently. Harper is convinced that the reason Cole is in trouble involves his new roommate, Sterling Lane, who has become rather infamous over the years, being expelled from more expensive schools that one can count. While Cole warmly defends and praises his new roommate, and the school administration seem very convinced that Mr Lane has turned over a new leaf and is a reformed character, Harper sees him for the dangerous delinquent that he really is and is determined to expose his sins to the world.

To prove that Sterling is bad news, Harper keeps being forced to break one or several of her precious rules, only to find that Sterling is always two steps ahead of her, usually framing her for something much worse than she's trying to get him reported for. But while Harper is so very determined to bring Sterling Lane down, she forgets about her first and most important rule, and Cole's troubles keep getting worse. He may end up getting expelled and/or facing criminal charges. Harper has no choice but to swallow her animosity and actually work together with her nemesis to prove Cole's innocence. She may discover that she and Sterling Lane aren't so different after all, in fact, they seem to be two sides of a rather devious coin. And perhaps she doesn't entirely and completely loathe him either.

Over the years, it's become very clear to me that the "enemies to lovers" trope is a favourite of mine in romance, going all the way back to Pride and Prejudice. Protagonists who initially can't stand each other, and who often work so very hard to one up each other, only to discover that their intense dislike stems from mutual attraction - it needs to be a pretty badly written story for that not to work for me. Here we have the trope at a posh boarding school involving clever teenagers rather than adults, but it still worked for me. The entire book is told from Harper's point of view, so we are entirely left to her impressions over the course of the story. Each chapter is headed with one of the many reasons Harper has for loathing Sterling, who really does come across as rather unpleasant and infuriating during their first encounters. Not that Harper is a picture of cordiality and friendliness towards him either.

As the book progresses, it becomes clear that Harper is a bit of an unreliable narrator, because her first impression of Sterling is so bad, and even before meeting him, she's pre-judged him based on rumours of his past exploits. The reader pretty quickly figures out that Sterling goes out of his way to confirm all of Harper's worst expectations of him and has far too much fun matching wits with her and provoking her into more and more outrageous actions. It also becomes clear that while he's not exactly an angel, he's not necessarily the irredeemable "bad boy" he first appears and that there are reasons for many of his past actions that he doesn't feel comfortable sharing with most people.

While Sterling seems a bit douchy and devious at first, it's clear that Harper has a huge amount of growing up to do as well. With the exception of Cole, and a few of his friends who vaguely tolerate her, she barely has a social life to speak of, and is known as "Harper the Hag" by many of her peers. Living her life after her rigid rules and with an absolutely insanely detailed schedule for when to study each subject and how much, she's not exactly a barrel of laughs, and could absolutely stand to lighten up massively. With the arrival of Sterling and Cole's sudden foray into shady business, her life is thrown into chaos, at least compared to her normal, regimented schedule. When she also acquires an unexpected roommate, one of her former tormentors and popular girls at school, Kendall, she further has to soften up slightly. Kendall isn't your typical Mean Girl, she does in fact genuinely apologise for her earlier treatment of Harper, and while they clearly don't become BFFs right away, it's clear that Kendall comes to appreciate Harper's no-nonsense bluntness, while Harper is just so desperately in need of a friend who she's not related to, who can give her some much needed advice and tell her when she's getting too bitchy.

I've seen several people on Goodreads comparing the relationship dynamic in this book with 10 Things I Hate About You, which is still one of my all-time favourite teen movies and romantic comedies (RIP Heath Ledger, *sob*). I absolutely see the similarities, and like with Kat, who starts out as a somewhat abrasive, but awesome and confident female character and ends up not actually having changed all that much, but maybe learned to take herself a bit less seriously, she gets the guy without changing anything major about herself. At the end of this book, Harper is still very much an ambitious, intelligent goal-orientated young woman who is determined to keep her rules (although she has learned that it's not the end of the world if she breaks one or two occasionally). She's made a proper friend and found a romantic interest who loves her for who she inherently IS, not who she could change into. It's obvious that Sterling has no interest in some new, laid-back and different Harper, and that while they can bring out the worst in one another, when working together, they can be a brilliant team and encourage the best in each other too.

TL, DR - this is a really fast and fun read which can be recommended if you want a good YA romance.

Judging a book by its cover: This is a really generic YA cover, clearly thrown together by someone who hasn't read the book, because if they HAD read the book, they would have known that neither of the protagonists look anything like the sullen and bored-looking teens on this cover. It's even a bit of a plot point that Harper has a very short, severe haircut, and the guy who I guess is supposed to be Sterling? He doesn't even look like he's a teenager, more like some disaffected 20-something. Awful cover for what was a pretty excellent little YA book.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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