Okay. So I’ve read a lot of great books so far this year and even given out a handful of five-star reviews on Goodreads.
Yet, it’s been a while since I came across one of those ‘can’t put it down, stay up past bedtime, did someone actually write this book specifically for me’ — reading experiences. Probably not since I read Well Met and Waiting for Tom Hanks, in fact.
Add How Not to Fall In Love by Jacqueline Firkins to this list, because, wow, did I strongly consider not going to bed until I finished it. Sleep prevailed, but only just — I started reading alongside my morning coffee and did not stop until I got to the end.
Now, I’m going to try to put my arm-flailing post-book excitement into words. I will do my best to avoid specific spoilers but I am going to talk tropes, which may give away a thing or two.
(Disclaimer: Book links that follow are affiliate links. I received an advanced e-galley of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review).
If there is one trope I cannot seem to quit, it’s the ‘best friends who don’t realize they’re in love until they do’ trope. I once watched 13 Going on 30 three times in the same day, starting again at the beginning as soon as I got to the end.
I picked up How Not to Fall In Love on NetGalley because it seemed like it might be up my alley. Then I forgot enough about the synopsis that I couldn’t quite be sure where things were headed as the book began. Yes, she made a bet with her best friend, but that bet seemed to entail…another love interest?
Yes, my friends — we have ourselves a classic YA love triangle. Er, quadrangle?
The basic premise of the book is this: Harper works in her mom’s wedding dress shop, dealing with fretful brides and petty arguments between bridesmaids. A summer fling left her heartbroken and certain she’s going to avoid love like her single mother before her.
Best friend and boy-next-door Theo, on the other hand, gets heartbroken about once a week. He falls fast, and hard, and easily, and… girls tend to run in the other direction after one too many earnest texts, seven-course picnics, or accordion serenades.
How to solve these problems? With a bet, of course.
Harper agrees to teach Theo how not to fall in love, but she has to prove she’s got the chops by asking someone out herself. She sets up an online dating profile for him and finally gets up the courage to ask out the cute boy who works out in the gym across the way from her mom’s store.
Said love interest is cute, sweet, and seems like an all-around great guy. Harper definitely has feelings for him, but there’s just the tiny matter of the fact that, in taking the perfect photo for his dating profile, it suddenly occurs to her that her nerdy friend Theo is hot. Oops.
You probably guessed this from the aforementioned trope obsession, but I heedlessly threw myself on the ‘best friends in love’ ship the moment Theo made his way onto the page. Never mind that the other love interest is introduced first, or that he really does seem like a pretty great guy.
Oh no, hand me a sensitive best friend in a Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts who’s prone to getting his heart broken and spending the weekends off LARPing in a field somewhere. Sold, 100%, every single time.
As much as I love a classic love triangle, they can be a bit clumsily tossed in at times. Part of what I enjoyed/agonized over in this book is that both guys are viable options for Harper. Her confusion about her feelings in choosing between them feels genuine and authentic, and I was impressed by how much we see her think through the conflict on the page.
A lot of times it feels like these love triangles exist more in the minds of fans than the characters themselves (looking at you, Katniss Everdeen). It was refreshing to see Harper genuinely trying to untangle her own emotions as she realizes it’s possible to have feelings for two people at once and try her best to go about managing that in a way that’s honest and careful of everyone’s feelings.
Even as I raged every time Harper did anything that went against my chosen ship, I felt that regardless of her final choice, I would have a strong sense that she thought it through and chose wisely in the end. This isn’t one of those stories where there’s an obvious choice because one love interest isn’t fully fleshed out or is secretly kind of a jerk, and I liked that nuance.
Even if, in my mind, there is only ever one actual option when you’re choosing between two guys and only one of them makes his own chainmail.
It’s also nice to see guys who cry without shame or judgment, as Theo does, and have a strong female figure who has chosen to be single in her adult life for valid reasons. That choice being respected even within the universe of a teenage rom-com felt refreshing, especially in a woman who sews wedding dresses for a living and could easily be portrayed as bitterly single instead of happily so.
As you can tell, I would give this book more than five stars if Goodreads would let me (I need more rating options, but that’s another topic for another day).
Not only did it play to all my favorite tropes, but it approached the teenage love story in a way that felt believable. No one was making any promises of forever in the end, and we got a much more realistic “happily for right now,” which I appreciate.
I highly recommend this book if you like a good love triangle, appreciate the occasional fencing tournament, or if you, like me, cannot get enough of the best friends realizing they’re in love trope.
How Not to Fall In Love will be released on December 21st, 2021. It is available for preorder on Amazon or directly from the publisher, HMH.
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