Monday, March 18, 2013

Review: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sarra Manning


Title: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me 

Author: Sarra Manning 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is the type of novel whose story you can predict from the synopsis itself. You know, even before you crack open the spine, that it's going to be a typical romantic comedy, a chick-flick, just like the thousands you've already seen, but you're willing to give it a try anyway. Or, at least, I was. Granted, I picked it up primarily because I wanted a taste of Sarra Manning's writing for adults after enjoying her YA Novel, Adorkable, so much last year, but like with Adorkable, Manning's adult romance surprised me with its unexpected depth and poignancy.

With You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Manning creates a very Bridget Jones-esque protagonist. Neve is an intelligent young woman who works in an archive in London, but she's also a highly insecure one. Ever since she was in high school, Neve has been mercilessly teased about her weight. As such, she's always believed she was fat and has taken great pains over the past three years to lose weight. Even with her weight loss, though, she isn't happy. For Neve, happiness is a size ten dress and impressing her intellectual soul mate, William, who is in LA. William, who is returning in just a few months, is who Neve believes to be her Mr. Right. Not only is Neve preparing herself physically for William, but as a 25-year-old inexperienced with sex, she desperately wants to be prepared for a relationship as well. Thus, after a string of unsuccessful blind dates, she winds up fake dating Max, her sister's boss and a resident man whore.

As you can expect from the synopsis, Max and Neve fall in love, some drama ensues because they both have problems, and really, I am quite, quite sure you can guess what happens when William returns to London during the last couple of chapters of this novel as well. Yet, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me is a fantastic novel, despite its predictable plot. What makes it such a page-turner (really, I could not put this down!), is that its protagonist, Neve, is so very endearing. From the first page itself, her voice is genuine, authentic, and easy to connect to. Although her constant cribbing about her weight can be a little irritating after awhile, it's obvious that her insecurities are real and not simply a statement to garner attention.

While I loved the manner in which Manning explored Neve's insecurities about her weight, using it as an issue that affected every part of her life and truly developing her thoughts about herself as her relationship with Max progressed, I did also have a few bones to pick with it. In some ways, Neve is a convenient heroine. As women, we all feel self-conscious at times, especially with the marketing industry the way it is and with Victoria's Secret models strutting around on TV and in magazines. Yet, for Neve, her obesity was genuine: a woman who used to be a little over three hundred pounds dropped to under half her weight. Thus, her insecurities were all based upon her bullying and the very real past since Neve was a big woman. On one hand, I appreciated that Manning took Neve as she was now, at just a hundred and fifty pounds, and made her still as insecure as she ever was; she took a woman who was curvy and made her see herself as perpetually fat, which is the reality for a lot of women. At the same time, however, I wish she had chosen to explore this image crisis for other women too. We get glimpses of Celia, Neve's sister, upset that she's very stick-like or even other women complaining about her bodies, but this book was so utterly focused on Neve and women just like her that it felt a bit too exclusive for my liking.

In addition to that, Neve's happiness with herself and who she was is directly linked to Max. Max and Neve's relationship progresses in a very realistic manner, with them both setting boundaries on their fake relationship and not truly trusting each other with their personal issues until much later. With such a large novel, Manning is able to really make this work over the course of a few months. Yet, we also see that when Neve is finally happy with Max, she ceases to care about her weight. While this is a great thing, I almost felt as if it gave the wrong message across. You don't need a man to have sex with you to feel good about your body image. You just don't. You can be single and STILL be perpetually happy and not dieting or constantly weighing yourself. I wish that at the end, this message was a little more clearer. It felt like the moment Max was out of the picture, it was just back to more and more diets.

Again, this is because Neve was bullied so badly for years - and that her bully happens to be her sister-in-law who lives downstairs and STILL bullies her - but, then again, isn't this just the exclusivity I was discussing before?

Nevertheless, despite my qualms with this novel, I really cannot stress enough that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Although it is a hefty book, it never felt too long or drawn out and while I frantically flipped the pages of this novel, I wasn't really worrying all that much about the issues I mentioned above. Instead, I was enjoying the hilarity and authenticity of Neve's narration and her blundering, romantic, and utterly sweet relationship with Max. Max has his fair share of problems, as does Neve, and the fact that he makes Neve eat properly and cares for more than just her appearance is so wonderfully brought across. While Neve's self-image is linked to the fact that she has a boyfriend, it is also evident that Neve has come a long way from the person she was in the beginning of the novel and still does, potentially, have a long way to go. Sarra Manning has written a novel that is compulsively readable, relate-able, and will keep you reading and laughing until the wee hours of the morning. Although this book tackles some very real and serious issues, it was such a cute contemporary that I genuinely loved it. In fact, I am honestly torn about rounding this up to 4 Stars because my lower rating doesn't truly reflect how much I enjoyed the novel. Whether it be in adult romance or young adult contemporary, Manning is an author I can count on for a delightful and romantic reading experience. Guaranteed.

13 comments:

  1. If I had to pint out what type of books I didn't like it would be this type. It's annoying when I can predict the story from the summary. I mean it can be perfectly written but still. I'm glad you enjoyed this one but I think I'll stay away :) Great review :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm glad that you mostly enjoyed this book, Keertana! And I agree, this book might have a very predictable plot but well, sometimes we just love this kind of book, right? ;) I think I'm going to like Max's character. A womanizer who ends up falling for an average woman, how sweet. <3

    Beautiful review, darling! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm intrigued by the Bridget Jones-esque protag! Even though it's predictable, it does sound like a lovely novel with depth. I've never read a Sarra Manning book but maybe I should rectify that.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't heard of this one before Keertana, but I love the sound of Neve! I so enjoy an endearing heroine, and while I've never been one to struggle overmuch with my weight, I think women in general can relate to body image issues whether the particular issue being portrayed is one intimately familiar to them or not. We all look in the mirror sometimes and see flaws. MUST READ:)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hmm, I didn't actually think about those issues but now that you mention it, I probably have the same concerns. I just loved how real she made Neve and Max, instead of glossing over their respective issues. I liked that the weight factor weighs in all the time. And God, the sister in law was TERRIBLE. Ugh. I did not Manning's Nine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend though. That one was infuriating and kept on going round and round in a circle. She has a new one coming out this year. Hopefully it will be marvelous. Great review, Keertana!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I had the complete opposite reaction to this book. I didn't like it at all, I felt like it was too much focused on weight issues and insecurities and at one point I really wanted to yell at Neve to move on. Nevertheless, it was something not for me and I'm glad that you enjoyed it. Thanks for the review :)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Yes I had so much love for this book too Keertana, I did find the 600 pages or so really daunting at first but like you I flew through the pages of this book. And surprisingly I much enjoyed Manning dip into the adult genre than her YA novel Adorkable. Despite it's predictability I think I will be reading a lot more from Manning especially her adult novels! I'm glad you enjoyed this too! Lovely review! :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow, for such a daunting book, I'm glad you were able to enjoy this one so much! Even though this book is pretty exclusive in terms of its topic, I really do love the sound of the main character and her relationship with Max. Sometimes, even if a novel is predictable, it's still fun to watch the process happening. ;) The main character does sound very real though, as does the voice, which is hard to find in books such as this sometimes.

    Lovely review, Keertana! I think I'll have to give this author a try. <3

    ReplyDelete
  9. Confession time: I never really liked Bridget Jones. I know, I know. However, this sounds just different enough to make me want to read it. I love that Manning explores these insecurities, although like you, I wish she'd been a bit more ambitious about it and tried to deal with more than one issue and more than one type of woman. Still, since she created a likable and relatable heroine in Never, I suppose it's good enough.

    So now I have to find out if I'm right about those last few chapters.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I just finished Adorkable and though it was so much fun, so I love that you've just reviewed another of the author's books. Especially an adult one. I actually like these predicable stories sometimes, so that doesn't really bother me. I'm especially excited about reading Neve's perspective (is this one just from her or is it split?), because I love a likable, endearing heroine despite their faults. I just read Girl of Fire and Thorns so it's interesting that you're reviewing one that also is about a girl with weight issues. This book also makes me think a bit of Bet Me, because that heroine also had body image issues, and I really liked how she ended up accepting herself as she was. Great review! And glad you're back.

    ReplyDelete
  11. One read of that title and I've got that song stuck in my head. ;) I usually find books of this type are fairly predictable most of the time (so I guess I'm not surprised), but I'm glad you still thought this was a fantastic novel overall. I will have to make it my mission to meet Max and Neve one day! Adorkable is calling to me, too. :)

    Fantastic review, Keertana! And welcome back! I hope your trip went well. :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. I like the title of the book, I can't see it without having the song play in my head!

    I like the sound of this, and I defo want to try reading some of Sara's books, I have 2, but I do agree on your point that it sends a message about being happier if you have a man, and that's not god, too many women already think like that,

    Despite that, Neve does sound like a good MC :)

    ReplyDelete
  13. I think it's the best Romance writers (the ones I tend to really enjoy) that can totally engross you in their characters and plots despite the fact that you essentially know the story cover to cover before flipping to the first page. I can totally see your issues with this one (I do have issues with girls whose happiness is defined solely by having men in their lives--you need to be happy by yourself first!), but also the appeal of it. I REALLY want to read Manning's Unsticky at some point, it'll probably be my first of hers, but assuming that goes well I'll be turning to others.

    ReplyDelete

I love hearing from my readers and I read, reply, and appreciate every one of the comments I receive!(: If you're a fellow blogger, please leave a link to your blog - I'd love to drop by!

Unfortunately, this is now an award-free blog. I simply do not have the time to respond and forward on the award, but I truly appreciate the nomination regardless.