For a trope-y book that ends up going way past the tropes, for a lighthearted yet fairly deep story, for a whirlwind set over 3 months but feels like so much more than that
After spending summer vacation in the Philippines with family, Lara returns to school eager to catch up with her close knit group of girlfriends. But within minutes of reuniting with her friends, she learns that not one, not two, but all three of them are now in relationships that blossomed over the summer. And to make matters worse, Lara’s long time frenemy, James, won’t stop bugging her in class and eventually forces her into tutoring him everyday after school.
Surviving high school was never easy to begin with, but with occupied friends, a hectic Filipino family, and her annoying childhood enemy pestering her more than ever, Lara tries to juggle everything, while trying to figure out her own place in the chaos.
What hit me most with this story was how much more there was to it than I expected. From the silly title and cutesy cover, I figured this would be a lightly angsty YA book about discovering oneself that would probably end in a romance. While that wasn’t totally incorrect, there was so much more to it. Amazingly, it never felt crammed or forced to me. It was more like a three-act play, where one arc of the story would resolve and a new one would begin.
Beyond that, there were also so many lines and sentiments that I really enjoyed reading. The kinds of lines I savor. I paused and thought about them and luxuriated in the messages they carried and the thoughts they inspired. One particularly poignant one hit me when a character laments how folks think saying “I love you” will solve all problems people might have, and how that’s such bullshit. Experiencing that last ditch effort from a new ex during a breakup, I felt that one.
There is, of course, no lack of silliness in this one. Even though it grows into heavier topics and more serious angles, there’s a wonderful levity to it all. I adore books with chapter titles, especially when they’re as good-natured as these, formatted with each chapter listing a rule to follow in order to truly achieve the title’s promise to become the best third wheel. One of my personal favorites was “Tip Twenty-Seven: I Really Have No Advice For This One.” The situations the characters deal with require some suspension of disbelief at time, but I was fine with it. Most rom-com style stories have to contrive some absurd circumstances at some point in order to get to the best bits, right?
In the nature of details, I like that all of the Tagalog is written out entirely with an English translation after worked into it naturally. It’s a nice bilingual adherence and a true show of love to the culture and the characters. No one feels alienated by not understanding portions, but that aspect of the story retains its shine and is allowed to feel authentic instead of shoehorned in for a checkbox or personality trait.
Thank you to NetGalley and Wattpad Books for a free advanced copy. This is my honest review.