Maybe this was my fate. I was the child of lies. Everything I did was touched by that poison.
I really want to be fair, because I find its so easy now to Rage Against the Machine that is New Adult Contemporary Romance these days than find something nice to say about it as a whole. And I heartily acknowledge that Diana Peterfreund/Viv Daniels did try to offer a fresh perspective with a character like Tess McMann, but its really, really hard to give a polite, appreciative applause when I just can't trick myself well enough to cheer for a heroine like her. And that's really unfair because this had some good moments… great moments that were eclipsed by the moments I was restraining myself from doing something violent to my reader.
The blurb is off-putting: Illegitimate and secret daughter Tess meets biofuel geek Dylan one summer when they were eighteen in a science research camp in Cornell. They flirt, fittingly enough, over cheese. They had virgin sex. They part ways. Much to Dylan's dismay of course but Tess is going to State college and Dylan's going to Canton University, the dream school her father expressly forbids her to go to because it runs too close a risk into revealing the truth about their "delicate situation" to his legitimate and clueless daughter, Hannah who, gasp, goes there as well.
We've been around this block haven't we? So we pretty much know Tess will find her way to Canton. Find her way to meeting Dylan again who still harbors this world burning love for her because obviously, two virgins having sex for the first time could only be earth-shattering and mind-blowingly amazing. The kind that you masturbate to for two years, yes.
Oh alright, I'm being sarcastic. Because the real foundation of that love was the cheese. Hey, hold that eye-roll, it wasn't just ordinary cheese, you know, they're not barbarians. It wasartisanal cheese with organic date-blueberry compote if you must know. And we all know love borne over artisanal cheese with organic date-blueberry compote conquers all. Including two years of separation, an unsupportive father and the fact that Dylan is now dating Hannah, Tess' legitimate half-sister. Who Dylan can't break up with at the moment because… you know what, I'll let you discover that for yourselves and here, use this gif for that status update.
What saved this from being a 1-star read for me was Tess' struggle to not become the woman her mother is. The conflict of knowing too well where her and Dylan's doomed relationship will be heading after seeing her mother play that game for so long… it was fresh, interesting and quite brave. The perspective of the Lydia Bennetts and reluctant femme fatales is something that I haven't seen yet and I liked that this brings up some unique issues but disappointed that this chose the predictable and less impressive angles of Tess and Dylan's relationship. Why choose that well-trodden, exhausted track when the unchartered emotional minefield of Tess and her mother or her father was so much more ripe with tension and depth?
Probably because she can have sex with Dylan and not with her parents.
I'm sorry I gave you that mental picture but its true.
It felt like this had a lot of spirit and enthusiasm to do something different but still fell prey to the usual tropes and archaic ploys I hate about New Adult (enough already with the UNIQUE GRAY EYES and the FLOPPY HAIRS and the PEACHES AND CREAM COMPLEXION, geez) which would have been forgivable if we had a heroine better than how Tess was painted here.
I hated how she toed the line of morality and how she rationalizes her actions.
✹ She explicitly told Dylan they will not have a relationship until he breaks up with Hannah.
✹ Dylan didn't cheat on Hannah with her because they didn't sleep together, they just made out.
✹ After mutually agreeing with Dylan that he shouldn't break up with Hannah because of… reasons, her idea of staying away from him is pulling him inside a dark closet to talk to him in private. Because that's what rational, sexually attracted people who trying to stay away from each other do right?
I actually liked that there's a dissonance between Tess the scientist and Tess the hormonal twenty-year old because it adds a layer of complexity in her character and her internal conflict should make me sympathetic to her plight. But she's the sort of girl that doesn't resonate with me. Its not enough that she burdens the people around her with her baggage but she also has to make them unwitting accomplices to her lies and deceptions. There are things for me that you just don't do. Stealing your half-sister's boyfriend, even if you got to him first two years ago, is one of them. Her being aware of who Hannah is gave her the opportunity to be the bigger person, but this isn't that kind of story.
She isn't strong the way I like my heroines. True she goes after her dreams and fights for what she deserves by breaking free from the control of her father. But she never would have done that without Dylan, which makes me uncomfortable, the way distressed damsels getting rescued by princes make me uncomfortable. Because they're twenty-one, running on love fueled by sex and artisanal cheese and organic blueberry compote.
This just went on longer than I intended. So should you pick up this book? A good litmus test would be this scene.
I tapped my pen against the edge of my notebook, thinking. It flew out of my hand and rolled off the desk, and I reached down to get it at the same time as Dylan.
Our hands met under the table, each of us with our own end of my pen. I raised my gaze to his face and saw, for the first time, that he was wearing his glasses today.
"Hi," he whispered.