I wonder if I’ll ever hit an age where I’m “too old” to enjoy reading YA. When I was younger, I thought it might be when I became a parent, but now that that ship’s sailed, I’m hoping the answer is never (though maybe by the time my son’s a teenager, my opinion will change). I was first drawn to Sophie Gonzales’s Perfect On Paper (in stores March 9!) by the cover—I’m not going to lie—since that orange colour is something seen so rarely these days. Then when I read the synopsis, I was hooked. Though I’m nowhere near as talented at giving relationship advice as the protagonist Darcy, I was (and still am) the person my friends turned to for counsel from a young age, so I already related to her. Add in a love triangle (and unrequited love at that), and this story had “I won’t want to put it down” written all over it!
Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.
However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.
Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.
Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?
I went into this story with pretty high expectations: This isn’t Gonzales’s first book, for one, and I’m finding a lot of YA romance to be formulaic, so this was going to have to be different to get my attention… and I’m happy to report I was blown away. From the great cast of characters, to their relationships with the people around them and the great representation depicted in this story, I’ll be recommending it to my YA-appreciating friends.
I mentioned the characters, and I want to break them down a little bit. Though there is so much more to them than their sexuality or gender identity, but this book focuses closely on a bisexual character, a lesbian, a heterosexual man, a transgendered woman, and has a list of supporting characters who range from hetero and allied to ace. It was so refreshing to see—and it made sense because the community was part of a queer and questioning group, so it wasn’t like there was this LGBTQ group of people who just happened to be diverse, if you know what I mean. And though sexuality definitely played a role in the story, it was secondary to the main plot, which played it off as no big deal, which is exactly how stories should be told nowadays.
Darcy is a well-rounded character with a family history that is rough, but not unbelievable, and with a mother-daughter relationship that I think a lot of young people can relate to in that it’s a little strained, but neither perfect nor catastrophic. She makes some silly decisions that young adults can be forgiven for, of course, but she’s just so relatable that you want to be her friend. Brougham, on the other hand, is a little less realistic. He has a difficult home life, which isn’t as rare as some might think, but I had a hard time believing some of his actions—I just couldn’t see a male varsity athlete being as mature—maybe that’s the wrong word, but definitely caring or… selfless—as he was. Of course, it’s possible things have changed since I was in high school!
If you liked To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before with a little bit of a queer flare, you’ll love Perfect On Paper. I could see this making a great movie or limited TV series, too. There is very minimal sexual content, too (though there is some heavy alcohol use at one point), so it’s actually appropriate for real young adults.
“The only thing that’s universally agreed on is this: if you’re having relationship issues and you slide a letter through the vents of locker eighty-nine, you will receive an email from an anonymous sender within a week, giving you advice. And if you’re wise enough to follow that advice, your relationship problems will be solved, guaranteed, or your money back. And I rarely have to give people their money back.”—Sophie Gonzales, Perfect On Paper
Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the advanced copy, and to Tina Witherspoon on Unsplash for the featured photo.