Saturday, October 26, 2013
ARC Review: Isn't She Lovely by Lauren Layne
Title: Isn't She Lovely
Author: Lauren Layne
Rating: 4 Stars
Release Date: October 28th, 2013
From its mere appearance alone, Isn't She Lovely seems to be a rather classic tale. After all, we have a New Adult college setting, an opposites-attract situation, and two "troubled" teens...what's new? Well, Lauren Layne, that's what. Although I often struggle to find a New Adult novel I enjoy - one that isn't Holier Than Thou or Unteachable, - Layne's debut into this genre won me over almost instantaneously. Not only is her writing addictive, impossible to put down, and a true page-turner, but her characters truly come alive, making this book one to read...again, and again, and again.
From the moment they collide in the hallway, rushing on their way to classes, there is a spark between Ethan and Stephanie. With her black eye make-up and goth gear, Ethan is surprised he is even remotely attracted to her and the same can be said for Stephanie as she studies Ethan's jock good-looks and rich-boy attire. As luck would have it, the two are paired up for a summer film project and their plans of avoiding each other are thrown out the window. Instead, Ethan comes up with the brilliant idea of transforming Stephanie and introducing her to his parents as his new girlfriend. For Stephanie, the only plus side is that they will be filming the facade as their summer film, but soon, the lines between what's real and what's pretend begin to fade. As Stephanie and Ethan begin to spend more and more time together - as they begin to fall for each other - Stephanie can't decide if who Ethan likes is the real her...or the girl she's pretending to be for his parents.
Admittedly, Isn't She Lovely doesn't really take place in college. Thus, much of the coveted college experience I look for in New Adult novels is conveniently absent, as are any friends that Stephanie and Ethan may have. Instead, much of the novel simply revolves around the two of them, but considering the baggage they bring to the table, this works just fine. Yet, what I appreciate is that Layne never makes this novel about how Stephanie and Ethan "heal" each other. Stephanie, with her deceased mother and re-married father desperately wants to stay away from home while Ethan, after finding out that his mother slept with another man, wants the same. Nevertheless, the growth that these two go through - the acceptance they find to face their problems - all comes from within. Of course, their impact on each other is significant, but the ultimate decisions they make are without the influence of the other.
Isn't She Lovely really isn't a heavy read, for this reason. In fact, the bulk of this novel revolves around the budding attraction between Stephanie and Ethan, from their cold stares to their witty banter and ultimate friendship. Moreover, with a "Pretty Woman"-esque backdrop, the plot of this novel is only spiced up. I've found that I'm not a fan of the opposites-attract romance angle, merely because it seems so implausible the deeper you dig into it. Granted, they attract each other, but can they sustain a relationship? As Ethan and Stephanie grow closer and closer, Stephanie cannot help but ponder this question herself. After all, how much of Ethan's attraction to her is because of her now-normal appearance? With her standard goth get-up, would he still want her? And even if he did, what about the rest of his family? Is there a place for her in his rich lifestyle?
While Ethan is extraordinarily rich, Stephanie is rather upper middle-class herself, but the wealth gap between them is still noted - as are their opposite personalities. Layne, thankfully, makes very convincing arguments and ends this novel with an ending I can be satisfied with - one that acknowledges the realistic hurdles this couple faces. And, believe me, there is no way you aren't rooting for these two. Ethan, despite having been born with a silver spoon, is respectful and supportive of Stephanie. While she hides her secrets, he never takes advantage of her - emotionally or physically - which I appreciate and the slow pace at which their relationship moves is a refreshing, and frankly more honest, portrayal than those normally seen in New Adult. (Once Stephanie's "secret" is uncovered, this makes a lot more sense and only emphasizes how genuinely sweet and caring Ethan is.)
Now, I will admit that this novel doesn't break new ground in this genre. It doesn't tackle the difficulties of college, the tenuous relationships formed with friends, or even the looming future of career choices very effectively. Nevertheless, unlike the other novels in its genre, it is drama-free, with three-dimensional characters, and manages to explore the idea of family very well. And, more than that, it is a wonderful love story, full of entertaining dialogue and a relationship formed on the basis of equality. If you're looking for a light read to curl up with for an hour or two - or just another jock to swoon over - look no farther than Isn't She Lovely. You won't be disappointed.