Category: New Adult

Rent a Boyfriend

Cover image for Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chaoby Gloria Chao

ISBN 9781534462472

“I hated myself in this house. I hated what my priorities became, what I worried about, the things I said and, more so, didn’t say.”

Chloe Wang is bringing her boyfriend home for Thanksgiving in a desperate bid to convince her parents to turn down a proposal from the Kuo family to marry their son. The only problem is that Chloe doesn’t have any boyfriend, let alone one impressive enough to convince her parents she shouldn’t marry the son and heir of the most prominent family in their church community. So she turns to Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company that specializes in providing fake boyfriends guaranteed to impress traditional Asian parents at family events. Drew Chan is a starving artist side-hustling as a professional fake boyfriend after he was disowned by his family for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams. Drew has a natural sympathy for the pressure his clients are under from their families, and a talent for impressing even the most exacting parents. But when Chloe starts falling for the real Drew, not Andrew Huang the fake boyfriend, they’ll have to face the fact that his real resume is nothing like the bill of goods they’ve sold her parents.

If you like a fake dating trope, in Rent a Boyfriend Gloria Chau takes it to the next level, with Chloe actually hiring a fake boyfriend from a company that specializes in training young men specifically to impress uptight Asian parents who have a very particular standard of acceptable for their daughters. Andrew the Rent for your ‘Rents operative has been trained in everything from mah-jong to dancing, and can fake any major from art history to computer science on demand. Through alternating points of view, Chau explores the consequences of this idea for both Chloe, who hires the fake boyfriend, and Drew, who plays the role and has to compartmentalize his job from his real life. The resulting story is a mixture of funny, sappy, earnest and cute, as Chloe and Drew try to figure out whether their similarities are enough to overcome their differences, and the bizarre circumstances of their meeting.

Both Chloe and Drew have two names, and two separate selves. At home, Chloe is Jing-Jing, the pure and innocent daughter of her immigrant parents, who are deeply enmeshed in their small church community, and place a lot of value on her making a marriage with an upstanding member of their inner circle. At school she is Chloe, an economics major who focuses on her studies and doesn’t have many friends. When he’s at work, Drew is Andrew, a one syllable difference that serves as a constant reminder of the role he is playing on any given day, made to order for the parents of whatever girl he is helping this week. The rest of the time, he makes his art, and tries to find the courage to show it to anyone. Rejected by his family, he can’t quite believe his work is actually worth anything if they would abandon him over it.

Between Drew and Chloe we get two very different views on incorporating their parents’ cultures into their lives as Chinese Americans. Drew is estranged from his family, but his heritage is very much a part of his daily life and his art. By contrast, Chloe is still trying to have a relationship with her parents, but when she is away at college, she feels like an entirely separate person, one who flinches away from references to her heritage or the language her parents speak at home. Drew comes from a more working class community, while Chloe’s parents are dentists in Palo Alto, surrounded by tech money and venture capitalists.

I was a little bit worried about how the story would handle Drew’s job after he and Chloe get together, but I think Chao did a good job with resolving that question. His job isn’t treated as something to be jettisoned the moment he gets the girl, but an important part of his life and financial stability while he figures out how to make a living as an artist. Rent a Boyfriend combines a light romantic romp with earnest questions about reconciling your heritage, relating to your parents as an adult, making hard choices between what you want and what you’re willing to give up in order to have it.

You might also like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before 

Red, White & Royal Blue

Cover image for Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonby Casey McQuiston

ISBN 978-1-250-31677-6

“June, I’m the son of the President of the United States. Prince Henry is a figurehead of the British Empire. You can’t just call him my archnemesis… Archnemesis implies he’s actually a rival to me on any level and not, you know, a stuck-up product of inbreeding who probably jerks off to photos of himself.”

As the son of the President, Alex Claremont-Diaz, his sister June, and their best friend Nora Holleran are America’s golden children, beloved by the press, and the perfect political surrogates for President Claremont and Vice President Holleran as they pass through the 2018 midterms and aim for re-election in 2020. But Alex commits a very public faux-pas when he gets into an altercation with his long-time rival, Prince Henry of England, at the wedding of Henry’s older brother, Prince Philip. As the White House and Buckingham Palace fly into damage-control mode, Henry and Alex are forced to fake a public friendship for the press, even while the sparks that are flying behind closed doors are of an entirely different sort. But if they ever want to really be together, they’ll have to come to terms with themselves, their families, and their place in history.

Red, White & Royal Blue is told from the perspective of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of America’s first female president, Ellen Claremont, who is divorced from his father, the senator for California, Oscar Diaz. Although college-aged, Alex lives in the White House with his mother while he attends school at Georgetown, and his sister June has returned home after graduation as she attempts to start a journalism career with the baggage of not being taken seriously as a result of her status as First Daughter. Alex is mouthy and over-confident, with a laser focus on going straight into politics after college and becoming the youngest Congressman ever elected. So it maybe isn’t surprising that coming to terms with his sexuality has been on the back burner. After all, “he’s absolutely sure that guys who kissed a Prince of England and liked it don’t get elected to represent Texas.”

The Claremont-Diaz family is, of course, entirely fictional, a made-up successor to the Obama administration, although certain real political figures are mentioned in passing. Ellen Claremont is finishing out her first term, and heading into the 2020 election as her son undertakes a liaison that could provoke an international crisis. The British Royal Family is semi-fictionalized, drawing clear comparisons to the real monarchy without directly copying the family members as characters. McQuiston’s fictional version of the firm is headed by Queen Mary, whose daughter Catherine has withdrawn from public life since her husband, the film star Arthur Fox, died an early death due to pancreatic cancer. Her three children, heir Philip, and younger siblings Beatrice and Henry comprise the family’s younger generation of the Mountchristen-Windsors.

This book is at heart a light, fluffy romance, but one that also cheekily sends up the problematic aspects of the trope at its center. For example, early in the book Alex complains to his sister June that “royal weddings are trash, the princes who have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist at all is trash. Its trash turtles all the way down.” June shoots back, “you do realize that America is a genocidal empire too, right?” I suspect that some people won’t like politics intruding into their fluffy romance in this manner, but I personally found it helped to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance rather than simply ignoring the problems inherent in the trope. Your mileage may vary.

As the book goes on, Henry and Alex develop into frenemies, then lovers, and launch a snappy epistolary romance as they exchange text messages and emails, and try to sneak across the Atlantic to see one another as often as their duties will allow. The sex scenes are a bit more explicit what you would generally find in a YA novel—Red, White & Royal Blue is marketed into the New Adult category—but not actually that graphic overall. It will certainly appeal to fans of m/m YA tales such as Carry On or The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Most of all, however, this was a perfect bit of fluffy, swoony fun, which was exactly what I needed in the current moment.

Fangirl

fangirlby Rainbow Rowell

ISBN 978-1-250-03095-5

It felt good to be writing in her own room, in her own bed. To get lost in the World of Mages and stay lost. To not hear any voices in her head but Simon’s and Baz’s. Not even her own. This was why Cath wrote fic. For these hours when their world supplanted the real world. When she could just ride their feelings for each other like a wave, like something falling down hill.”

Cath Avery isn’t just any Simon Snow fan. The whole world is a fan of the seven Simon Snow books and their film adaptations, but Cath is a Big Name Fan. Online, where she’s known as Magicath, she’s the author of Carry On, Simon, the biggest year eight fic in the Simon Snow fanverse, and she only has until May to finish writing her version before Gemma T. Leslie releases the final Simon Snow book, and her story officially becomes noncompliant. Unfortunately, Cath has a big year ahead that could potentially interrupt her writing; she’s starting university, and her twin sister, Wren, has refused to be her roommate, so Cath is going to have to meet the dreaded new people. Since their mom left when they were kids, she also has to worry about the fact that their dad will be on his own for the first time. Despite being a freshman, she’s also gotten permission to enrol in an upper division fiction writing class, where she will have to test her writing skills outside the comfortable world of Simon Snow.

Rainbow Rowell brings the Fangirl characters to life by showing their flaws as well as their strengths, with carefully selected details. Cath fears new situations so much that she spends a month eating protein bars in her dorm room rather than facing the daunting prospect of the cafeteria. Wren may be more outgoing and socially adept than Cath, but she’s also more susceptible to peer pressure, which Cath proves largely able to resist. Their father is brilliant advertiser—“a real Mad Man”—but doing this job means not taking the medications that might help him keep his manic episodes under control. Rowell paints a very sympathetic portrait of mental illness in Mr. Avery, one more example of her ability to write misfits we can all sympathize with and want to root for.

Other than Cath’s family, there are three important secondary characters: her somewhat abrasive new roommate, Reagan; Reagan’s some-time boyfriend Levi, to whom Reagan appears to be less than faithful; and Nick, Cath’s new writing partner for class, who is handsome, but doesn’t seem interested in talking to her about anything besides writing. New friendships and new romantic prospects force Cath to confront the prejudice and confusion of people who don’t understand her interest in fanfiction. Fan fiction is such a big part of her life that others can’t really know her unless she reveals this aspect of herself. Appropriately then, Cath’s narrative is mingled with excerpts from both the canon Simon Snow works—parallel  to Harry Potter in many ways—and Cath’s fanfiction from throughout the years. These excerpts provide both a counterpoint to Cath’s everyday life, and insight into her online world. Writers have displayed a wide variety of attitudes towards fanfiction over the years, from cautiously optimistic to overtly hostile, but I can think of nothing that quite compares to the way Rowell delves into the interior life a fan with Cath’s character. (If you can think of any other similar works, please share in the comments!)

For those who criticized Eleanor & Park as a nostalgia book because of its 1980s setting, Rowell has proved that she can bring the same resonance and attention to detail to a story set in the present day. Fangirl is a coming-of-age story, but one with the ability to appeal to those who are merely remembering this stage of life, as well as those who are experiencing it. Introverts and misfits of all types will likely find Cath extremely relatable.

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Cover image for The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil GaimanJust a reminder that today is the last day to participate in a Rafflecopter giveaway for a signed first edition of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, which I’m giving away in celebration of Required Reading’s first birthday. You have until 9pm PST to enter!

 

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2013eclecticreaderThis title fulfills the New Adult requirement for my participation in the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out.