Whatever happened to “I like this person and I will ask them out?”
Well, for whatever reason, the main characters of the following books don’t seem to have romance (or at least romance with the designated love interest) at the forefront of their high school lives. And technically, there’s nothing wrong with that. But then something outside of their control brings the two together. And then a relationship that soon blossoms into love starts to develop.
What’s worth noting is that main characters of unorthodox high school romances are usually very guarded with their feelings. One or both parties find it very difficult to be vulnerable to other people and they are unlikely to keep their hearts in their sleeves. In fact, the designated love interest is the last person they would ever consider a “significant other.”
Reasons for their reticence can be internal. Some characters simply don’t think they are worth loving or they think that pursuing a relationship is a waste of time compared to other pursuits.
Reasons can be external as well. One common example is that the characters have monetary or family problems that fill up most of their time (aside from schoolwork, that is).
Or it could be a combination of the two.
Whatever the case, another thing these books have in common is for the main characters to maintain a certain facade. Remember how I mentioned that the main characters are usually very guarded with their hearts? They use their public image (aka the aspect they show other people) to protect them from hurt. This facade is so important that they do a lot of silly, ridiculous things to simply “save face.”
But what’s ironic is that despite their attempts to control their situation to prevent that “hurt” from coming, things usually spiral out of their control. Usually it takes the form of two incidents that come together:
1.) The “love interest” becomes well aware (a lot early on into the story) of the main character’s facade.
2.) The two are required by force to spend an inordinate amount of time with the other
To further the irony, the main character’s facade subsumes his or her life that the only one she can frankly speak to is the “love interest.” Yes, the same person they think to be the last person on earth to hook up with.
And it’s in that moment, when both characters have to be honest with each other (or at least share a bit of the truth to each other) that starts the deepening of their bond.
So here are some books that I loved that fit this trope (IMO):
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Lara Jean Song wrote letters to all the boys she’s loved. But those weren’t supposed to ever be mailed. Only thing is, those letters went missing and the next thing she knows, the letters got mailed to the boys, one of whom happens to be her beloved older sister’s ex-boyfriend Josh.
When Josh tries to talk to her about it, Lara Jean pretty much avoids the issue by telling a fib. That she’s in a relationship with Peter, another previous ex-crush who has a “reputation” (if you know what I mean).
All I can say is that I’m a big fan of the pretend boyfriend trope (the little sister of my other favorite trope “marriage of convenience). I like Lara Jean and find her to be sweet and charming. So those who like this trope might want to give this book a try
Love Me Never by Sara Wolf
Isis Blake never wants to fall in love again. Let’s just say that the last boy she really liked was a traumatic experience. After being called ugly, she worked out to the point of exhaustion and vomiting to slim down. Now she has a new life in a new school. But for some reason, Jack Hunter (the most popular guy all the girls want) rubs him the wrong way. And this culminates to a punch in the face.
Jack never dates high school girls. And there’s some rumour going around that he goes out with older women.
Well, Isis and Jack are at war. And it doesn’t take too long for Isis to figure out what’s going on with Jack (or at least part of what’s going on with him).
For anyone who loves the anime/manga turned TV drama Hana Yori Dango (aka Meteor Garden aka Boys before Blossom), I recommend this series. It’s a little reminiscent of the series. I like this book because of the strength of the main character Isis. Yes, she’s vulnerable and still haunted by what happened with “he-who-must-never-be-named.” But she stands back up and doesn’t let other people like Jack treat her like trash.
I like that in this instance, both parties have a facade to maintain and that these facades are somehow broken (or at least tarnished) by the other. Thus, we get this relationship where each can be really honest with the other
I also like the characterization. And how even the female bullies are not two-dimensional jerks. Sure what they do is reprehensible. But you get an idea of where they are coming from.
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Bianca has beautiful best friends. But high school playboy Wesley pretty much labeled her the DUFF (aka the Designated Ugly Fat Friend). Hence the understandable hatred toward Wesley.
When things at home become too hard to handle, Bianca chooses to pretend things will be fine. She doesn’t confide in her friends. Instead, she inexplicably (in her opinion) gets into a “friends-with-benefits” relationship with Wesley. Another thing she chooses to keep a secret from her friends.
No she definitely likes another boy. The thing with Wesley is nothing serious…except Wesley seems to have a better idea of what’s going on with her than her own friends do…
This was definitely a surprise read. I didn’t expect to. But I really loved the book. The relationship between Bianca and West is something of an enemies to friends-with-benefits to friends to lovers sort of thing. And I really loved it.
Special Note: There’s a movie of the same name starring Robbie Amell and Mae Whitman (which I also loved). But think of the movie as more of an alternate universe. It follows the premise but deviates from the book
The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West
Gia was supposed to introduce her boyfriend Bradley during high school prom. But when Bradley dumps her on that momentous day, she’s in a dilemma. To tell the truth means that her friends would cast doubt to her having a boyfriend named Bradley in the first place.
So she asks a cute guy (who’s only there to pick up his sister) to fill in and be her pretend boyfriend. What could go wrong?
Well, what can I say? I’m a sucker for the pretend boyfriend trope. But this book (I think) is a more realistic delve into what happens if you lie to your friends. So expect laughs and tears along the way
The Way to Game the Walk of Shame by Jenn P Nguyen
Taylor Simmons (straight-A student) wakes up one morning to find herself in an unfamiliar room and beside notorious surfer boy/playboy Evan McKinley. Nothing actually happened. But everyone thinks they did it. Some slut-shaming ensues. And in order to salvage her reputation, Taylor has Evan help her by pretending to be her boyfriend.
Yes, it is another pretend relationship story. But I think this story distinguishes itself by how sweet the guy is. Usually, the guy is bribed or blackmailed into helping the girl (aka there’s always something in it for the guy). But Evan really felt sorry for how Taylor was treated after the “morning after” incident. And simply wanted to help her.