Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn BennettAlex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse on April 4, 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Edelweiss
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four-half-stars

The one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

Early last year, I read my first Jenn Bennett novel, her YA debut The Anatomical Shape of a Heart, and I loved it SO much that I read five books and a novella by Bennett in 2016. I’ve got three more backlist adult urban fantasy novels waiting for me, but my special love thus far are her young adult novels. If you read The Anatomical Shape of a Heart and loved it, you will absolutely not want to miss Alex, Approximately. Once again, Bennett delivers an OTP-level ship, excellent family feels, and a voice that charms from the very first page.

I made that for The Anatomical Shape of the Heart, and it very much deserves to be applied to this book too. From the first conversation between “alex” and “mink” on a site for classic film fans, I shipped it strongly. That did not even begin to prepare me for how much more intense and powerful the shippy feelings would get over the course of the book. Bennett knows just how to build tension and she understands the value in tiny moments for building an epic ship.

I fell in love with Bailey instantly. She’s an anxious person with serious trauma in her past which she is “dealing with” by repressing, against the advice of her therapist. She’s convinced that her Artful Dodger method of avoiding getting close to people will keep her safe. She’s funny and so incredibly relatable if you’re an anxious nerd. There were lines I wanted to highlight on EVERY SINGLE PAGE because the voice is so fucking amazing. Bailey also has a fabulous character arc, of learning to trust and to stop repressing. View Spoiler » Oh, and the whole book is chock full of references to film, both classic and less so. I picked up a ton of subtle references and I know I missed oodles more. You don’t need to be intimately familiar with film to appreciate this book, but, if you are, there’s even more treasure in these pages.

Porter and Bailey have one of those classic misunderstandings of each other’s character. It’s vaguely Lizzy/Darcy-esque, only with Bailey as the Darcy figure. She comes off as a rich east coast snob, with her fancy old movie style and her anxiety reading as a distaste for those around her. Porter’s initially easily dismissed as the stereotypical surf bro, and his habit of making jokes at the expense of absolutely everyone around (including himself) can make him come off like an asshole, especially to someone like Bailey who is trying to avoid notice. Spoiler: Porter is the absolute best, and I love this adorable hapa boy who cannot resist poking fun ever.

As you can expect from the bulk of my favorite ships, Bennett delivers banter on point. Porter and Bailey have an excellent back and forth, whether they currently hate or love each other. The dynamics change, but their ability to converse wittily never diminishes. For readers who don’t like endless streams of banter, never fear: they can be and are serious when the situation warrants it. They being to work through serious relationship factors, like the importance of communication (just because one banters handily does not mean one is actually open about the big things). I love this, even if it made me a bit of a mess because it hits rather close to home.

Bennett writes such amazing unrealized (and realized) sexual tension. So often, there’s not much but the awareness of hotness and then kissing. Bennett makes the most of absolutely everything, achieving that intense yearning of a mega-ship. For one thing, these two are practicers of the close talking art form exemplified by Jack and Phryne. There are scenes that made me melt into a shippy goo puddle where they brush fingers, a breath brushes a neck, or with just an arm touch that are every bit as intensely sexy as the actual scene where they have sex (also phenomenal). There’s such an art to building that intense chemistry, and Bennett is an expert.

Alright, I usually don’t start reviews by talking about the ship because this is what happens, and I know I have lost all of you non-shippers (so heyyyyyyy my shippy friends!). There’s so much more in Alex, Approximately than just the ship. The family relationships are also brilliantly done. The parents feel like parents, from Bailey’s proud CPA father who loves sci fi and Settlers of Catan (as well as his daughter) to Porter’s shipper mom and irascible dad. Though they’re only in one scene, Grace’s parents were cute too.

I adore Bailey’s friendship with Grace, and I think their arc does work. For a long book though, Grace doesn’t really get an arc of her own, and she is there to serve as a friend. This is one of several plot/structure weaknesses in Alex, Approximately. For my part, I’d remove Davy as a character entirely and use that space to increase the scope of the friendship arc and work in more about Grace’s own troubled relationship. The Davy arc struck me as too stereotypical and it takes a book that, though often fluffy in feel, has a lot of past trauma and some sadness, to a place of melodrama. As is, it would be impossible to make a faithful movie version of this novel that didn’t feel like it belonged on Lifetime.

The most obvious flaw, though it didn’t bother me a ton because of how much I love Porter and Bailey (in case you couldn’t tell) is the execution of the secret pen pals thing. It is so obvious that I can’t be the least bit mad about the book’s description spoiling this fact. You will figure out what’s going on by at least chapter three, but Bailey and Porter will not. Porter has an excuse, since he doesn’t know that she’s in town, but Bailey realllllllly should have put it together. It honestly doesn’t make a ton of sense for her to be that unaware, and I didn’t love that Bennett hit the expected narrative beat on that plot. If I didn’t love the shit out of Bailey, I would have been massively frustrated and probably grown to loathe her a bit by the end.

One small thing I want to call out about Bennett’s contemporaries is that I love the focus on unusual careers that you can find in both The Anatomical Shape of a Heart and Alex, Approximately. In the former, Beatrix dreams of being an anatomical illustrator. Bailey’s dream is to work in a museum (preferably of film), either as an archivist or a curator. After reading endless YA novels about aspiring photographers, Bennett’s books are incredibly refreshing.

Jenn Bennett’s contemporary novels are an absolute MUST READ for any lovers of contemporary romance. I can tell you now that, even with the plot issues, this will be one of my favorite books of the year.

Favorite Quote:

“You always go around sticking your hands down boys’ clothes?” he asks.

“When they’re full of baked goods.”

“Tomorrow I’m coming to work with ten pounds of pastries in my pants,” he mumbles to himself, making an ooaff! noise when I punch him lightly in the arm.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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One response to “Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett”

  1. Gillian says:

    “For readers who don’t like endless streams of banter, never fear: they can be and are serious when the situation warrants it.”

    who are these strange creatures

    “After reading endless YA novels about aspiring photographers, Bennett’s books are incredibly refreshing.”

    TROLOLOLOLOLOL

    also this makes me think of the part in The Upside of Unrequited when Molly is like IS FUCKING EVERYONE INTO PHOTOGRAPHY THESE DAYS
    Gillian recently posted…Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliMy Profile

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