When I first read this in 2015, it was the only book I gave five stars that year. Admittedly, I wasn’t reading as much as I would have liked, and I’ve been in a hardcore reading slump since then, but still—one five star book is a little disappointing. I never wrote the review because things got in the way and I didn’t make time, but as I started looking back on my experience with this book, I started to worry that maybe I didn’t like it as much as I’d remembered. Maybe it was just the kind of book I needed at the time. Maybe it wasn’t all that great after all, and I was looking at it through rose-colored lenses.
That worry resulted in me picking it up again today to see how I really felt about it. And guess what? I loved it just as much as I did the first time! I read it (again) in one sitting, and I fell in love (again) with the characters and their stories. This is my first encounter with Kasie West, and I’d always been meaning to read so many of her books, but The Fill-in Boyfriend really sold me on absolutely everything. It is the perfect summer read—heck, it’s the perfect it’s-still-winter-even-though-it-should-be-spring-now read, too. It is the perfect chick-lit romance without shoving insta-love or cheesiness down your throat. I highly, highly, highly recommend it, and I’m so grateful that it will always be on my shelf for those days when I just need to escape reality and dive into something satisfying.
What I Liked: Spoilers!
- Honestly, it’s been so long since I wrote a proper review, I’m a little afraid I won’t be any good at it anymore, hahah. The number one thing I love about West’s writing in this novel is the dialogue. She does not feel the need to overuse dialogue tags; she puts enough trust in the reader that we will know who is saying what and how. Usually, I’m a huge fan of dialogue tags, but something about their disuse in The Fill-in Boyfriend just made me feel like these were the exact conversations I would have with my friends. I am not anything like Gia when she’s with her friends from school, but I am exactly like Gia when she’s with Hayden. (In fact, I have had almost the exact same conversation with my best friend before about not liking the texture of food, but still wanting the taste of it.) The dialogue makes this book absolutely thrive, and it’s not often that I find myself actually laughing when I read conversations between characters. But I did that almost constantly throughout this book. The texting between Gia and Hayden was priceless; they manage to tease each other without being overly flirty, which is rare for chick-lit. The conversations Gia has with her friends and members of her family are authentic. I love the believability of Gia’s narration and her interactions with others. Honestly, I could start it over again right now and love it just as much. I could reread this book forever and never stop loving it.
- This is not just chick-lit. In fact, chick-lit might even be its second genre after coming-of-age or just plain contemporary. You would think that a book that starts right off with the main character convincing the future love interest to be her fake date would not be so genuine, but it absolutely is. Gia is your typical high school girl; I would describe her to you, but she kind of does a better job of it herself: “My life is normal. My parents are together. They don’t beat me or anything. Death has never taken anyone close from me. I do well in school. We’re not poor but we’re not rich either. I’ve never had a life-threatening illness or injury. I’m devoid of tragedy… I’m flawed because I haven’t experienced anything to teach me any valuable life lessons that make me a better person” (210). She comes to realize how shallow she has been in her interactions with other people, and she has a genuine interest in trying to become a better person. Gia reminds us that not all of us have a dramatic story to tell; we aren’t all struggling against impossible or life-shattering things. Sometimes we just realize that we can do better, and we want to do better. Sometimes that thing is as little as reaching out to people you wouldn’t normally reach out to, or trying to understand your brother more. The beauty of having her as a main character is exactly what Hayden’s mom says to her after she declares she has no wisdom because she has no tragedy: We all have a story worth sharing. That story will not always be dramatic, but it still matters. I think The Fill-in Boyfriend teaches that lesson perfectly. This book is mostly about Gia trying to figure out how she can do a little more each day to be a better person, and she also happens to fall in love with her newfound best friend.
- Geez, I love relationships that develop naturally. Gia and Hayden have quite the quirky beginning to their story, but the friendship they develop happens not slowly, but easily. They know they aren’t the typical friends, but their interactions never once felt forced or insincere. I love that they became friends first, and the reason they “fall in love” (they never use that phrasing, but I will) is because of how easily they get along and the strong friendship they have developed over the course of the book. They have a little bit of drama, but unlike so many chick-lits (I’m looking at you, Anna and the French Kiss), none of it is there simply to drive the main couple apart for stupid reasons. When they do finally get together, it happens near the end of the book and without fanfare—just the way a real-life romance would. I loved it and I loved them. I can’t ask much more than that.
What I Didn’t Like:
- There were times when I was definitely aware that there wasn’t a ton of substance to this story. The writing was not perfect, and there were the occasional obvious thoughts from Gia that we didn’t need. I thought the plot with how much Jules dislikes her was a little out of hand (although I can’t deny that I’ve had “friends” like that in the past), and I wish that there had been more closure with Gia’s friends at the end of the story. However, there was nothing too glaring that I could say here that really detracted from my enjoyment of the book as a whole.
Overall: I would highly recommend this, especially when you’re looking to take a break from more dramatic young adult novels. If you feel pretty average (like me), this is definitely a good book for you because its main story is that even when you feel completely ordinary, you are still capable of becoming a better person and having a story worth telling. It’s not dramatic and it’s not life changing, but many of us are not either, so I find a lot of comfort in this story and these characters. I think West can tell an excellent story, and I really look forward to reading more from her in the future.
Check out this review on my blog, too!