The first rule of Girl Code is that you can’t date your friend’s ex, even if Zach is a hot football player literally next door from Willa. Even if she’s had a crush on him for as long as she can remember…
Trigger Warning: Sexism, Minor Homophobia and Sexual Content.
I give this book 1 star (out of five). This book’s biggest problem is that it tries to subvert expectations by using stereotypes to shock or surprise the reader, but at least in my opinion it just ends up coming across as a mess of characters who are all badly written stereotypes. It has many clichés and tropes and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much of it was even unique enough to be considered original.
I wanted to read this because I realized I didn’t read a lot of romance and I’m in the process of trying to decide if I just don’t like the genre or if I’m just reading bad books. It’s hard to find anything that doesn’t have at least a little sexism, homophobia or both. I also have an idea for a romance story so I was trying to read more for some inspiration, but this didn’t seem like that.
This follows both Willa and Flor’s perspectives, Willa’s story is that she’s fallen in love with the boy next door Zach but he’s just broken up with her best friend Flor and she can’t date him without breaking Girl Code. Willa also has some family issues, her parents are separated by work, her older sister is living at home and drinking while Willa’s left to look after Mia, her niece. Flor is the rich girl with family problems, her Mom left and her Dad’s new girlfriend is taking him from her. But she can be distracted from all that by her math tutor who is surprisingly attractive.
[Spoiler Warning, stop reading the review now to avoid them.]
Throughout the story they both explore different parts of themselves and their potential relationships, spoiler alert Willa and Zach get together and so do Flor and Grayson (the tutor who’s also a fighter and super hot).
I really like stories that subvert your expectations, take a well known trope and change it up unexpectedly. That’s literally all you have to do and I’d be into it, but this book tries so hard to do that and just fails so horribly because it ends up being stereotypical in its own way, to the point where it ends up emphasizing what it seems to be trying to prove wrong.
Not only does this book have many sexist or otherwise questionable moments but it also just isn’t a good story. It seems like the author thought that putting the quiet girl with the jock would be revolutionary, just as much as the pretty rich girl and nerdy boy getting together was groundbreaking. But that just isn’t how it works, this probably could’ve been done well but in this case it wasn’t.
Flor tries to set up Grayson and Willa because they’re both smart and she’s genuinely surprised when that doesn’t work, and when Flor eventually does get with Grayson it was after she saw him fighting shirtless and realized he was hot.
If you wanted to subvert expectations then you shouldn’t have made him conventionally attractive, if the only difference between Grayson and the other guys Flor dated were whether or not they played sports, their grades and general motivation then it really isn’t that shocking that she was attracted to him. But even she talks about it like it’s some crazy miracle.
I hated how much trouble Willa got in after she was caught with Zach, he didn’t receive any punishment and Willa got in a lot of trouble and her parents were disappointed in her. I found this so frustrating because she literally does so much for her family and tries to keep them as happy as possible, even when her mom treats her unfairly or her sister is unreasonably mean, but her mom turns on her the second she gets in trouble. However, I also understand that this is another often used trope because it’s easy to get readers annoyed or engaged when the main character is treated unfairly.
I hate the ending so much. There’s literally so much build up, for what? To end with Willa and Flor sitting on a bench and accepting that things would be okay again between them. The entire story is based on the fact that Willa absolutely can NOT date Zach because Flor just dated him and the ending is unsatisfying because all the build up leads to Flor being so caught up in her new romance that there isn’t even that much of the book dedicated to the aftermath of her finding out about Willa and Zach.
I also strongly hated how the author tried to bring all the characters’ problems to some kind of resolution in ways that made absolutely no sense. Flor has one conversation with her Dad’s girlfriend Dana and suddenly everything is fine between them and all those times when her Dad ignored her, just stopped mattering. And it’s the exact same thing with Willa, her sister and Mom who have both been really mean and condescending towards her are suddenly doing their best and trying to be better instead of taking their anger out on her. And all it takes is one scene and all their problems don’t exist anymore because that’s realistic and logical.
It also feels like the characters were only given those problems so they wouldn’t be seen as one dimensional girls whose only interest was boys, but having problems doesn’t make them way more interesting or different and it definitely doesn’t make them less one dimensional.
This story discusses lots of gendered things like Girl Code and other sweeping generalizations but it never leaves room for trans people or people who don’t identify as strictly male or female. They also have lots of assumptions about characters based only on their gender and even when the possibility of a LGBTQ+ character is brought up it’s immediately shut down because of bigotry. It was also treated as something heterosexual people thought was okay, they acknowledged that it would suck to deal with homophobia but they also never directly address or do anything to change that.
Generally the Girl Code doesn’t leave room for people who aren’t straight at all, which is annoying because even if we’re only including cisgender people there’s still plenty of people who aren’t (only) attracted to guys so that really boxes off anyone who isn’t straight too. Basically Girl Code is for cisgender, straight, privileged white girls (because of course).
The following is a collection of things that I bookmarked while reading and why they’re problematic or significant.
“Girl Code #1: Never date a friend’s ex or a guy your friend is really into.” (pg.1) This is the rule that runs the entire plot but it also could’ve been totally avoided if instead of having it straight up be illegal, they encouraged their friends to at least talk to them first if they have feelings for their ex.
You know the trope of the rich girl accidentally insulting someone worse off? Yeah this has that but just a little bit more self aware to try and make it okay. (pg.18)
Flor seriously judges Willa’s clothes and more introverted behaviour in a way that screams, “Why aren’t you more feminine? You should dress like me. You can’t possibly have your own opinions or want to do different things, because we’re best friends and I know what’s best for you.” I got all the wrong vibes from her in this scene. (pg. 27)
“Willa had a nice rack even if she hid it in baggy tops.” “You can show off the girls.”- Flog (pg. 29). I don’t know if I need to explain this but talking about someone else’s boobs like that is kind of awkward and weird, I just hate everything about this exchange.
“Girl Code #5: Never knowingly wear an outfit another girl already owns.” (pg. 31) This one is just so weird, like why? I get that it can be awkward if you both wear it at the same time but why can’t they own the same clothes as you? That just seems self-obsessive. Girls aren’t just one collective, clothes are marketed to all of us and we are allowed to buy and wear whatever we want. No one should care whether or not one of their friends’ owns something before they buy it unless they’re trying to match, buy whatever you like and if you see someone wearing something you like and want then go buy it; that doesn’t make you some kind of evil demon from Mean Girls hell.
There’s this random flash back story of Willa’s first boyfriend repeatedly asking for nudes even when she said no (pg. 56). As unfortunate as it is in the modern internet age this is all too common, I actually had my first boyfriend do the same thing even after I adamantly refused and told him I was uncomfortable. So at least this small part of the story wasn’t undeniably unrealistic.
“My, my, that’s a lot of calories.” -Dana to Flor (pg. 83). This is one of the rudest things you could say, besides Flor is an athlete, really skinny and attractive anyway. This is just another example of women tearing down other women to feel superior, just because Dana is on a diet or watching her weight she feels like she’s better than Flor who isn’t, enough to make that comment. If someone said this to me I would literally eat more out of spite.
What is with boys breaking into girl’s bedroom windows? It’s not cute or romantic, it’s creepy and stalker-ish and I want it to stop being romanticized in romance novels and rom coms as some kind of ‘gesture’. Also I hate how Zach just insists he knows what Willa wants, he literally ignores what Willa is telling him only to tell her how she feels and what she wants? Yeah, no. (pg. 91)
Zach continues to ignore what Willa is telling him to his face and goes on about how hard the situation is for him, as if his emotions and feelings are way more important than Willa’s. (pg. 97)
Honestly, Willa should’ve just straight up told Zach that she valued her friendship with Flor more than anything that could happen between them and that was her choice. He kept trying to force her into a relationship and it wasn’t cute.
Zach gives some dramatic speech about how if they dated then there could be ‘something real’ between them and to me it sounds like he’s saying whatever he thinks will get him what he wants. (pg.98)
“Girl Code #10: Make sure you’re not unfairly judging your friend’s taste in guys. Just because it’s not your taste doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” (pg. 100) I don’t have a huge problem with this but does this mean you can’t discourage a friend from what could be a toxic or even abusive relationship?
This covers the topic of slut shaming, particularly from other girls towards girls. It also addresses the double standard for men and women when it comes to sex, but never goes deeper than surface level.(pg. 119)
A guy that Willa hardly knows shows up on her doorstep, definitely not stalker behaviour (pg. 251). This scene definitely did not need to be here, it had no real purpose.
When Dana says to Flor, “You have a father who loves you.” (pg. 259) And I think that’s debatable considering that he never seems happy to see her, is always surprised when she comes home, doesn’t take interest in anything she does and hardly talks to her.
After the whole school found out about Willa and Zach there were a lot of football guys who were saying and doing horrible things to Willa and it was so obvious that she was uncomfortable and the boys just kept doing it and it made them happy. (pg. 262) This shows how stupid, unempathetic and unaware teenage boys can be conveniently mostly towards women, for no obvious reason.
I just want to appreciate that some guy called Willa a “cocktease” and she slapped him, because that was just such a cool and badass moment. But it also makes me feel like this book tried to address sexism and explain why it was bad but it also was sexist in its own slightly less obvious way and didn’t portray that as bad.
There was one more sexually explicit scene between Willa and Zach and I don’t know if this is a personal preference but I felt kind of uncomfortable reading this because ever since the beginning of the story Zach has wanted them to get together and Willa, while having feelings for him, didn’t want to. He never respected that and was always trying to get her to agree with him even after she told him she didn’t want that many times.
In the end he just yells at her to stop using Flor as an ‘excuse’ and then she immediately does what he wants. I don’t like this because the entire plot of the book is her not wanting to date him and then she does, it seems like she just let him convince her. Especially since in that particular scene he was just talking about not even being friends with her anymore before he started kissing her, she would’ve felt more compelled to be receptive after that because she’d feel like if she didn’t then she’d lose her friendship with him. I know this is portrayed as a normal thing but it does feel like he emotionally manipulated her into getting with him.
Also there were multiple times when background characters like Willa’s sister make comments about Willa and Zach’s relationship for no reason other than to bring it up, and sometimes it’s confusing because they shouldn’t even know about the things they’re talking about.
Besides all the things that I found sexist or inappropriate, the actual story and writing are just as bad and I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone with a hint of self respect.