‘The Charm Offensive’ Changed My Life In 10 Hours of Wholesomeness

Cover of The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun on a pale yellow background with colourful dots around.

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Basically, this entire book is a big middle finger to a world built to only work for neurotypical people. And that’s why it means so much to me.

I don’t read romance for the romance.

Most of the romance novels I’ve read so far that actually mean something to me have reached that point not because they made me swoon for the main couple, but because of how their love came to be.

Things like Alex and Henry of Red, White and Royal Blue defeating a heteronormative system to pursue happiness together, or Evelyn and Celia of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo playing with the press to protect their relationship, or Chloe and Red of Get a Life, Chloe Brown coming together from a place of trauma and finally being accepted by someone exactly for who you are.

This is what I read romance for.

Sure, I like a bit of steaminess and I’m here for the absurd sweetness and the way everything works well in the end. But what makes a romance truly matter to me is the way the characters find each other and the way they treat each other.

And this is why Alison Cochrun’s The Charm Offensive became the first book I’ve ever read once to then pick it up again immediately after.

What’s the Story?

Ever After is a reality TV show much like The Bachelor, where one guy dates 20 women for a few weeks and ends up proposing to the last one standing.

Dev is a producer on Ever After and a hopeless romantic. Charlie is this season’s prince. But once filming starts, the crew quickly realises their star isn’t at all like the others.

Charlie is scared of germs, physical touch and sometimes even of social interaction. He has OCD, severe anxiety and struggles with panic attacks. Dev is supposed to look after him and make him more comfortable with being on the show.

So they fall in love. Of course.

But Charlie is supposed to leave the show engaged to one of the women, not hand-in-hand with his producer. So our intrigue starts.

My Thoughts

The representation in this book is outstanding. But even more outstanding is the way it discusses mental health. Dev and Charlie are so good together because they both struggle with mental illness.

Growing up unable to explain his moodiness to his parents, and dropping out of countless therapy sessions, Dev believes his depression makes him a burden when he has an episode and is not ‘fun Dev’ anymore.

“He’s always happy, always smiling, always thinking about other people. He usually thrives on set, fluttering around to everyone, helping and chatting and feeding off the energy of it all. He’s the most charming person Charlie’s ever met. That’s not the description of a depressed person.”
Alison Cochrun, The Charm Offensive

Charlie’s family has never been supportive of him, despite his good looks and incredible intelligence. On top of that, his own best friend, with whom he co-founded a huge tech company, fired him because of his ‘little quirks’ (read panic attacks), so he believes love and understanding aren’t available for him.

This is where the two protagonists connect and start growing together: from a place of understanding and being able to offer the other one the love they’ve convinced themselves they aren’t worthy of.

“I don’t love you despite those things. I love you because of those things.”
Alison Cochrun, The Charm Offensive

Basically, the entire book is a big middle finger to a world built to only work for neurotypical people. And that’s why it means so much to me.

Why I Think It Changed My Life

I am neurodivergent. This is the first time I’ve ever written that down or admitted it anywhere other than in my mind and in my heart.

I have ADHD and I struggle with anxiety. And believe it or not, I had no idea about any of these things until I read books with characters dealing with or suffering from the same things.

Don’t get me wrong, I think my ADHD makes me brilliant in many ways. But I also know, now more than ever, how much I’ve had to work, suffer, struggle and be confused in a world that’s simply not made for people with brains like mine.

I’ve struggled all my life to be less clumsy, to stop running into things because my brain does this little blip and I forget the door or the corner of the bed is there, to stop rushing, to stop burning myself out for a day and then being lazy for a week after that.

All these perceived personality flaws are caused by my ADHD. And that’s fine, now that I know there’s nothing wrong with me for always failing to change them.

But beyond my own struggles, The Charm Offensive showed me how to support other people who are struggling.

Some of the most important people in my life struggle with depression and anxiety. And I’ve always felt powerless around them when it hits. I never know what to say or do to help. Sometimes I get annoyed because I feel useless.

“When it gets like this, how can I help?”
Charlie swallows. “No one has ever asked me that before.”
Alison Cochrun, The Charm Offensive

This moment right here, no matter how simple it sounds, has never happened to me during a bad mental health episode. Nor have I given this to those around me when they struggle.

The simple act of asking how you can help is one of the best things you can do. Because it shows you’re not dismissing the person who’s struggling, and that you’re there for them if they need you. 

So I started asking how I can help and I was actually told afterwards that they felt I was trying to do better and they felt like finally opening up to me. This is a person I’ve been trying to help for years.

“How can I help when it gets like this?”
Dev folds himself tighter against Charlie, all those lovely sharp points digging in. “You can just stay,” he says, at last. “No one ever stays.”
Alison Cochrun, The Charm Offensive

And this moment right here. What an eye-opening scene. This happened during one of Dev’s depression episodes in the book. And that got me thinking how often I feel like leaving people alone when they’re having a difficult time.

Not because I don’t want to be there, but because I feel inadequate and useless. But maybe I don’t need to go out of my way to make them feel better. Maybe I can just be there, just stay, ask how I can help and let it pass.

I’m terrible at cheering people up. But then, of course, depression isn’t about cheering up. I am grateful not to suffer from depression, but when I have an anxiety episode, I don’t need people to try to snap me out of it. I know it will pass and only I can make myself feel better. 

But having someone patiently by my side knowing I’ll bounce right back and at the same time giving me the space to listen to my feelings, would be invaluable.

And this right here is why books are so important and so helpful. It’s not just a silly, sugary romance. Some of them make a real difference.

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Published by Eliza Lita

Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. Freelance writer and Higher Ed comms person.

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