Annabelle likes to think she has a prety normal life, she does well in school, has good friends, and she’s happy. But all that changes when Lucy Keating and Will come into her life, one being an author who gave Annabelle the unbelivable message that she is her newest character, and the other being the new kid who seems almost a little too perfect for her.
And while Annabelle finds Will attractive she can’t ignore the glimmer of something between her and her older brother’s best friend, Elliot.
Trigger Warning: Existentialism.
I give this book 2.5 stars (out of five). This book has a very interesting premise, the idea of a normal person suddenly realizing she’s a character written by someone else is actually really fascinating and somewhat existential but it sounded really cool, so I decided to read this.
I’ve recently realized that I don’t read a lot of romance, I like romance a lot but I usually find my favourite examples of it in books with other major plotlines and some romance on the side. Because lots of books that focus only on romance somehow mess it up by using too many tropes or having too much unfathomable conflict. This book is the epitome of all the bad feelings I had towards romance novels.
This follows Annabelle who finds out she’s just a fictional character living in a fictional world after a school visit from a famous author Lucy Keating, soon afterwards she meets a boy named Will who is quite literally made for her. While she finds Will attractive she can’t ignore the glimmer of something between her and her older brother’s best friend, Elliot.
At first Annabelle ignored what Lucy Keating told her, she rationalized that it wasn’t possible but as more and more unexplainable things happened Annabelle realized that this was her reality. She is the main character in Lucy’s new romance novel, but she doesn’t want the happy ending Lucy’s trying to give her and she does everything she can to stop Lucy from controlling their decisions, even if that means literally writing her own story.
I have many things to say about this so I might as well start somewhere simple, I read this entire book unaware that this was actually written by Lucy Keating. I thought it was a fictional author so I definitely would’ve preferred if it was a fictional character because her actually being the author and publishing it, makes it a lot more meta than it needed to be.
I do have to say that I really liked that after the characters realized what was going on they just decided to have important conversations in the bathroom because no one ever writes about what happens in bathrooms. That was smart and I liked that point of self-awareness within this book.
Another interesting point is that the characters are consciously unsure of what choices and things about themselves are really them or are just how Lucy wrote them. I liked this complexity and wished there was more of a focus on that, because Annabelle literally found out she was fictional and then worried about which boy she would end up with instead of the literal existential realization that she isn’t real.
This is why I don’t like novels that only focus on romance, it feels like it’s missing other stuff that would make it better overall, even if it doesn’t necessarily create conflict between the love interests.
At this point in the review I’m going to start going through the moments that I marked with post-its, as I was reading and talking about quotes and some of the smaller details, these aren’t necessarily major critiques but they’re things I wanted to mention.
On page 55 Annabelle’s best friend Ava refers to Will as an, “OCD Prince Charming,” because he has an organization sleeve in his car. Annabelle is also always extremely organized and sticks to a tight schedule, but she’s never described as dealing with OCD so Ava probably just made an offhand comment.
This isn’t too big of a deal but it isn’t right, nowadays generally comments like this are seen as disrespectful to people with OCD. Since I believe this was published in 2017 that’s kind of understandable, but I also don’t want to let stuff like this go unmentioned, even if it isn’t an extreme case.
“Will is everywhere I need to be today. I should be thrilled by this, the fact that I can’t escape him.” Is a line on page 96 and honestly I find this concerning. If not being able to escape a man is the standard for romance, then I am scared for all heterosexual women and frankly anyone else who is attracted to men. Having the love interest just blatantly follow her around and always be in her space is NOT romantic, it’s creepy, weird and I hope I never have to read another account of a woman feeling bad for not being interested in the man who’s following her around. That is absolutely not how romance works. Not now, not ever, and certainly not in a romance novel that young girls are going to be reading and basing their expectations for future relationships on.
I know I’m looking kind of far into one line but that is such a big red flag I had to say something. I’m pretty sure as a teenage girl I’m the target demographic for this and I can not stress enough that if I didn’t know better this would have contributed to my standards for romance in my life, and this could be the case for many other girls who read things like this. It’s concerning especially since being followed by a man can be very dangerous and young girls not knowing that could literally end their lives or put them in extreme danger.
“Yes, I have popular friends, but I’ve never had the guy.” (Pg. 120) This quote is an example of a girl equating her popularity or value to whether or not she has a boyfriend. I don’t think I need to say that I think she should be able to be popular without a boy, and I hate the tone in this line because it makes it seem like having a boyfriend entirely changes her life and who she is, instead of just being another person in her life.
I’m not going to write out the entire quote but there’s a small section (pg. 150) that basically minimizes anxiety and other students’ struggles. Since Annabelle doesn’t have any issues getting her work done on time or doing presentations she simply can’t understand why some of her classmates are freaking out over it. Personally I just think this is kind of insensitive, because she’s projecting the way she does things onto other people and wondering why they can’t just do things like her. It’s really annoying when people assume that because something is easy for them, it is for everyone else too.
Each person will have their own difficulties and struggles and Annabelle’s tone was really condescending to the other students and I don’t like that it started with the phrase, “Anxiety never used to be something I was particularly familiar with.” I know that she isn’t necessarily talking about the mental illness but this could’ve been worded in a better and less self centered way.
This might just be me not being used to romance novels, but is it weird that after her entire world falls apart the first thing Annabelle does when she realizes she can control it is go see her boyfriend? Because I feel like seeing your family and making sure everyone didn’t die would have also been a good choice. (pg. 223).
And in the following scene when Elliot and Annabelle are talking about what just happened he summarizes her efforts to be freed from Lucy Keating’s control as, “defending how you feel for me.” Instead of a justifiable fight for her own existence, I will never understand how someone can tolerate having to fight for your life and then have the guy you love make it all about him. I know this line was slightly joking but I still hate it and I feel like it’s a double standard, if the main character was a man it would not be chocked up to some romantic feelings. But of course, women know nothing but romance and will forever be defined by their male counterparts.
Honestly even though this book was entirely centered around a love triangle I’m not going to talk about my opinion on which guy she ended up with, because I don’t care. I was disappointed with this book not only because I don’t love romance as a genre but also because it didn’t make Annabelle’s story enough about her. Everything was focused on the romance in her life and nothing else, which is the worst part because I feel like you can write a compelling romance without ignoring every other aspect of a character.
Overall this book was just so full of little things that made me reevaluate how I look at heteronormativity and subtle things that break women down to the men beside them. I didn’t like it and I would not recommend this, even to someone who loves romance. Another really small detail is that the font that’s used to write the chapter titles is hardly readable and I always had to squint to figure out what it said.