The Blurb On The Back:
According to the rule, Freddie has to say “yes”.
Freddie is unremarkable – too unremarkable. In fact, his teachers and fellow students keep forgetting who he is. Even his TV-producer mum thinks he’s a disappointment. After embarrassing himself in front of Jasper Perry (the gorgeous teen star of his mum’s new show), Freddie decides to try something different: saying “yes” to every opportunity.
That’s how Freddie ends up auditioning for the school musical (<u>Grease</u>), actually going to parties, and flirting with hot new boy Zach! He’s becoming a whole new Freddie – maybe even one that his mum might be proud of.
But the path to love is never smooth, and sometimes you have to get things wrong in order to work out what – and who – you really want.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
16-year-old Freddie Bennett is a complete nobody who’s so anonymous that at his school prom he had to listen to two girls fail to identify him in the school yearbook, even though he was standing right next to them. His best friends – Ruby (a confident, large Afro-Caribbean girl with zero interest in fitting in and who is looking at Oxbridge and a glittering future) and Sam (Freddie’s oldest friend who everyone thinks is gay, just because Freddie is) – encourage him to put himself out there more but Freddie already had a taste of humiliating failure when he dried up on stage during a production of Les Miserables and even though he really loves the theatre, he can’t bring himself to put himself out there again.
When Freddie’s mum orders him to attend the launch party of a new TV show she’s producing called Cherries (an edgy teen drama with a lot of teenagers having sex), he meets one of the show’s stars – the insufferable Jasper Perry who clearly has him marked as a loser, especially after Freddie manages to accidentally cover him in jalapeño cream cheese. Knowing that he was out of place in a room full of beautiful people and all-too-aware of how his mum thinks he’s a hopeless case, Freddie decides to reset his life. He’s about to start sixth form and he wants to do so as a new Freddie Thompson, who’s going to say yes to everything that life has to offer!
The reset starts with Freddie deciding to audition for the school musical of Grease and the decision automatically pays off when he meets the impossibly good looking Zach Cooper, who’s just transferred to their school and is a bona fide theatre kid (complete with having been picked for the National Youth Theatre last summer). Even better, Zach appears to be interested in Freddie!
But as Freddie navigates his way through sixth form, trying to make changes in his own life, a maybe possibly relationship with Zach and the petty rivalries and dramas associated with staging Grease, he begins to learn about who he really is, what he actually wants and who he genuinely wants to be with …
Simon James Green’s YA gay rom-com is a light hearted affair that nods at PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and GREASE while hitting all the romance notes you’d expect and throws in some smart observations about how being a gay compares with how TV show gay teens together with genuinely hilarious one-liners and scenes (I particularly enjoyed those with bitchy theatre kids). I’m not normally a YA romance fan but would check out Green’s other books based on this.
I plucked this from my To Read Pile specifically after reading a news story about Green being banned from talking about his books at a Catholic school because a Catholic pressure group started a petition against it going ahead. I’m not normally a big reader of romance (disclaimer – nothing against the genre, just not usually my bag) but I do try to read and promote LGBTQ+ books because representation is important and the more successful LGBTQ+ books there are, the more publishers will look to publish. Plus I am a big believer in pushing back hard when the book-banners and author-cancellers come calling.
What I really like about this book is that Green is clearly a rom-com fan. He knows the beats that the story needs to hit, understands a good meet-cute introduction, has a wicked sense of humour (there are some very good one-liners in here but he also understands how to do a scenic set up and write the visual imagery to make it pay off). Most importantly, though, is that I completely believed in Freddie as a young, out, gay lad who has never really excelled at anything because he’s afraid of pushing himself out there, failing and getting hurt and/or letting down those he loves. It is so refreshing to read a YA book where the main character is not academically gifted and going on to a bright, academic university future (and no, I don’t have anything against that either, it’s just that it does tend to be a default) but equally hasn’t really admitted to himself what it is that he does really like doing because he doesn’t think he’s any good at it.
Also good is that this is a YA LGBTQ+ book without the angst you sometimes see about being gay. Freddie’s out but it’s not a big deal at his school. At the same time, Green doesn’t try to wave away the fact that at some schools it is a problem, incorporation it by reference in a plot point relating to Zach. Green also deals with the way boys, including gay boys, think about sex a lot and there are a number of hot smooching scenes, plus suggestions of other activity going on.
I’ve already said that the comedy elements work very well in this book. Green gives Freddie a great first person voice – wry and self-effacing – and his observations on the cliques and rivalries within the Drama Society are sharp and hilarious. At the same time his relationship with best friends Ruby and Sam have some laugh-out-loud moments, one of my favourites being a scene early on where they’re in an Italian restaurant and want a serious amount of Parmesan cheese on their dishes. That said, I wished that Sam had been as well-developed as Ruby in terms of side-character stakes, purely because we don’t learn an awful lot about who he is or what he wants other than his unrequited crush on Alice. Equally, I wanted a bit more from the relationship between Freddie and his mum because her reaction to his performance in Les Miserables clearly impacted him and he clearly believes that she sees him as a loser, but there’s not a huge amount of the page to back that up.
As a YA romance there is an obligatory love triangle. I liked the charming, caddish Zach and Green does a great job of showing why Freddie is so attracted to him. To be honest, Jasper was a harder sell to me and even at the end, I wasn’t quite sure what they saw in each other. I think that part of this is because Green is giving a nod to the Darcy/Wickham vibe in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and the Jasper/Darcy characters are each a little emotionally constipated and while Green does give Jasper a scene where he shows a more vulnerable side, it just didn’t vibe for me.
Something else that didn’t quite work for me was the resolution to Freddie’s story where he goes from having his lack of confidence totally torpedo his audition for GREASE to having to step in at the end and save the show and in doing so, land an audition for his mum’s TV show. I said earlier that what I liked about the book was how Freddie isn’t someone who’s got a great and glittering future ahead of him and the ending kinda undermined that, even though Green is at pains to make clear that Freddie isn’t that bothered about whether he wins the part or not because he wants to do theatre because he enjoys it. I almost wished that Freddie had realised he actually preferred back stage management and organisation to being on stage, because it’s such an important part of the process and always get treated as some kind of booby prize.
My criticisms aside, this is a really fun book to read – and absolutely perfect for the beach if you’re going away this summer. I am definitely adding Green’s other books to my To Buy Pile and look forward to reading his back catalogue and future work.