Genre: YA Contemporary / Romance
Content warnings: sexism, misogyny
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: a cute YA contemporary to distract yourself from life’s responsibilities
This was short, sweet and cute – a little academic rivalry and career path identity crisis all set in the familiar senior year of college pertinent to YA contemporary. I used to think that 17-year-olds in these types of books were super old and ~mature~. They seemed to have a somewhat solid framework for who they are or at least where they want to be. Now as an older reader, I find myself wanting to reassure them about the future. I could sit the main characters down and just say, ‘It’s okay guys! There are so many things that are not worth stressing about at this point in time,’ but alas, I do understand the value of learning at your own pace.
Anyways! To the actual book . . .
The world is not very helpful to a smart girl. More often it will try to force you inside a box. But I urge you not to listen.
I may be an arts person who also went to an all-girl’s high school, but Bel’s experiences being a WOC in a male-dominated STEM club still rang true. (How could they not in this economy?) This book made me reminisce about the days when I was in a robotics club in primary school, and I laugh fondly seeing where I am now.
The story being told in dual POVs really made this a fun read. It took a little bit of time to get in the groove of their inner monologues but that was a minor thing. I loved witnessing representation through Bel being half Filipino! I’ve said time and time again that BIPOC deserve to tell these stories, even if they’re not grand or anything new. There is no one way to witness a coming of age. Our younger selves deserve that and more.
Bel’s cute and eclectic wardrobe is such a vibe, and it was fun seeing Teo try to figure out who she is through it. I could relate to Bel’s uncertainty – she’s for the ‘I did this all last minute but somehow it turned out more than ok’ girlies. There’s such a focus of finding your niche, that one thing that gives you direction in high school, and that’s a lot of pressure on top of navigating family problems. I’m glad that I got to see the complexity of that through this book. Its exploration of the misogyny and sexism that is rampant in the STEM field is also so important. From direct comments to microaggressions about diversity, the experiences here are very real and relatable. The bro culture and favouritism were very much felt. I was rooting for Bel to take charge of her ambition, and I was happy to see her affirm herself – she is good at what she does and she’s taking the chance to see where it takes her.
Take up your own space, Bel. Don’t let other people tread over it.
Our leading boy, Teo, was giving Troy Bolton, especially with the ‘she’s not just some girl, Dad’. I mean, rich boy who’s captain of the soccer team and leader of the robotics club? You can’t tell me he’s not cut from the same cloth. Reading his POV definitely helped round out his character throughout because he would’ve felt 2D otherwise. I wish we got to see his relationship with his parents develop more! I can relate to his micromanaging tendencies, especially when you have your hands in too many buckets. It’s an important lesson for us all to know that we don’t always need to be the one to fix things. It’s not one person’s responsibility to carry it all. What makes Teo great is how thoughtful and attentive he is – man literally learns Taylor Swift’s entire discography for her.
Bel and Teo brought out the best in each other, even during such a hectic time of their lives. It goes to show how having supportive people around you can help you flourish and be more kind to yourself too.
Sometimes when Teo’s around me I feel like there’s this golden, shining thing between us. Or like maybe I’m the shining thing, and the rays of myself radiate further and wider and they stretch out so far that, for once, I’m not contained to the shapes of my usual worries and fears. For once, I get to feel vast and unstoppable and . . . bright.
Being a self-proclaimed connoisseur of academic rivals to lovers, this definitely hits the spot. It’s also a plus that it’s a YA BIPOC romance (we need more of those always). It’s up there with Michelle Quach’s Not Here to Be Liked and Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Today Tonight Tomorrow. For times when you want something simple and cute to read, this is definitely one to reach for.