It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday. Forever. 2018.
This is a romantic comedy that didn’t really work for me. I generally like Holiday’s writing style, find her books funny and engaging, and often exactly what I need. Unfortunately, this had several elements that didn’t work for me as a reader. This is book two in a series and it worked okay as a standalone but I found myself wondering if I might have liked it better had I read book one first.
This has a bunch of classic romance tropes, including enemies to lovers, second chance romance (sort of), best friend’s brother, wedding setting, long term pining, and casual sex to romance. The arc follows late stage wedding preparation and at the center are competing bachelor and bachelorette parties. There are some lovely moments where the hero is just gone on the heroine and sees her in all her strength and complexity, is so careful with her and caring towards her. And they have some moments of just smoking chemistry.
I liked the heroine’s circle of friends, they were my favorite part of the story. I love seeing close friendships and adore romances that really value friend relationships. This book had a central friendship for heroine that really grabbed my heart and made me want to continue reading, to see the arc around that relationship get resolved. I also liked that the bride wanted to call her wedding “low key” but didn’t actually want it to be low key; that felt like a very real conflict and made for some funny moments I enjoyed, especially because her friends really did want her to have what she actually wanted.
If competing bachelor & bachelorette parties grabs you as an idea, and you like enemies to lovers, this book might work well for you. I’m okay with these things, but they don’t intrinsically grab me, and I didn’t especially enjoy the way they worked in this particular story. There was a lot of pain underneath the fighting banter, a lot of angst, and it didn’t weave together well with the rom com elements. It felt like the pain and angst needed more care and attention and emotional resolution (the heroine’s arc with her BFF, for example, and even the core romance conflict) but instead there were these jumps to the comic elements, and the beats of the story ended up feeling jarring and just…unfinished.
The backstory for the romance conflict (highlight to read) is framed as this long term pining. But the parental role the hero had with the heroine when they were younger made it difficult for me to buy into the idea of them as a potential couple when they were teens. There’s this story that he stood her up on what could have been their first date, but also this story that she could always count on him in a parental role until he wasn’t there for her that one night, and it just didn’t make emotional sense to me as a backstory, given their dynamic together as adults.
There are some plot devices that pretty much never sit well for me, and this book has one of those. (highlight to read) There’s a car accident that mostly occurs to solve plot problems, create a barrier between the MCs, and drive a character’s personal arc. As someone who has been hit by a car as a pedestrian (which is what happens in the story), I’m just not on board with this kind of plotting choice. It feels like going for an easy out and treating something quite serious too lightly.
I had a similar issue with an element of the backstory. (highlight to read) Both the hero and the heroine had their fathers die when they were kids, and their mothers basically responded by not being around much and not parenting them anymore. The hero ends up parenting his younger sister and her BFF, who is the heroine in the story. This kind of parental neglect and having to act as a parent when you are a kid has a huge impact, affects everything, in so many ways, but it felt to me like it was treated too lightly in this story. It didn’t resonate for me, as someone who has experienced this, and just felt off. Relatedly, the hero is the adult child of an alcoholic, but he didn’t resonate for me in that way, and that part of his backstory was not really explored much.
One of the things that was particularly difficult for me was the nickname the hero had for the heroine, from back when they were kids. From my perspective as a white reader, it felt really off that this nickname wasn’t perceived as loaded or potentially hurtful by anyone in the story. To me, a white boy calling a Chinese Canadian girl named Wendy Liu “Wendy Lou-Who” felt like a racist bullying taunt, not a sweet childhood nickname. It’s making fun of a Chinese Canadian girl’s last name, which is already a super loaded thing to do, and a common tactic in racist bullying. But also, referencing a very white, blonde icon of white girl goodness like Cindy Lou-Who felt like it evoked either racist mockery or whitewashing. Every time he used the nickname, I flinched. And he uses it often, all throughout the book. In general, the representation of the heroine’s Chinese identity was very incidental, in a way that felt off to me as a white reader, given some of the content of the story. (This was particularly noticeable to me when the hero slut shamed the heroine, which is a super loaded complex thing for a white man to do to an Asian woman.)
My reading experience with this book was that I never really felt like I could sink into the story for long without getting jarred out of it, and I struggled to get on board for the romance between the MCs, and never really got there. I do intend to try book one, especially as it centers the bride and heroine’s BFF in this story. And book three has a bunch of tropes I like, so I may try it as well.
- Chinese Canadian woman MC
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Relative is hit by a car, has major injuries. Alcoholic parent of the hero died driving drunk. Many references to parental death, in childhood, for both hero and heroine. Parental neglect in childhood, and oldest sibling hero taking on responsibility for parenting younger sib and her BFF when still a child. Hero occasionally displays controlling behavior, challenged by other characters.. Slut shaming comments, challenged by other characters. Anti-sex work and being a sex work client comments, not challenged directly, somewhat textually challenged. Racist childhood nickname, used often. Pregnancy scare. Sex on the page.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley.
- I have had no interaction with the author.
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