Books: ‘The Stand-In’ by Lily Chu

Promotional photo of the book ‘The Stand-In’. Copyright goes to Lily Chu and Sourcebooks.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Yay, another book review! I got a bookstore gift card as a gift for Christmas and I’ve finally gotten the opportunity to actually go and buy more books. This one was on the top of my list and has been for a while. When I go out to buy books I usually keep myself at a three book limit and I actually saw this one months ago when I was book shopping on vacation. But I had already chosen three books, so I just kind of hoped that I would eventually find this book sometime closer to home. Finally, the bookstore closest to my house got this in stock and I just want to say that this book was absolutely worth the wait. I tore through this book in only a few days after I bought it and it has to be one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a while. The romance is adorable and the book says some absolutely amazing things about mental health that I hope will become more of the norm for all types of media. This post will contain MAJOR SPOILERS, so if you want to read this first and then come back, absolutely do that! ‘The Stand-In’ is so good!

Summary: Gracie Reed is a struggling corporate worker in a job she hates with a disgustingly misogynistic boss. On top of this, Gracie is also attempting to get her Mother in better care due to her Mother’s dementia. When Gracie suddenly gets fired from her job, an unexpected opportunity comes in the form of a mysterious limo pulling alongside her on the street. Inside is the ultra-famous Chinese celebrity couple Fangli and Sam, who have discovered that Gracie looks exactly like Fangli. Fangli offers Gracie money enough to solve her problems and then some to pretend to be her at certain events as a full time job. The catch; she would need to be escorted by Sam, who seems to hate her from the moment she steps into the limo. Would she be insane to say yes?

The Good:

Gracie- I always love when the main female character is not only a badass but also very relatable. Gracie is just trying to do her best and through the course of the story learns to love and trust herself more. Gracie does suffer from some anxiety and other mental health issues which translates, for her, in a love of being organized and planning out her day. This character aspect becomes important to the point that at the end of the novel she creates her own successful app for organization specifically. I loved that the novel explored that creative side of her, but was also very vulnerable in how it went about showing her personality to the reader. You really did feel like Gracie was a close personal friend. It was nice to see a character who was strong, but would still cry after facing something difficult and had moments where all she wanted to do was pull the covers over her head and hide away. But she would still get up and continue on anyways. She wasn’t demure; she was strong and self aware.

Sam- I knew I was going to like this character from his introduction. His opinion against the plan to have Gracie replace Fangli is often the loudest in the room, but his care for Fangli trumps any of those feelings. And when Sam pretends to have feelings for Gracie, I melted every time. Though I did also find hilarious how blunt he was about celebrities staging certain instances so that they’ll get some amount of publicity. Like Fangli staging a trip and fall so that he could catch her. I don’t think we address how often this is probably true for celebrity interactions in general, and it was nice how much the author really wanted Sam and Fangli to feel human to the reader. Sam is also very sweet and sometimes misguided, again we love a flawed character. He starts out being reluctantly helpful but can’t help himself from actually caring. It was a fun dichotomy.

Fangli- This is the character that we spend the most time on when it comes to mental health. It’s revealed that Fangli wanted Gracie to take over for her because she was having a pretty rough time with her mental health. Gracie, who has had mental health problems before and reveals herself to be on medication, tells Fangli that she should get help. Eventually, with the help of Sam, Fangli agrees to see a therapist and begins to heal. Not only is Fangli incredibly sweet and I love her relationship with Gracie, I also think that she’s one of the best examples of portraying struggles with mental health that I’ve ever seen in media. I love watching female friendships in media as well and I love how important that was here. And to top it all off, we also get male-female friendships here too! When it’s revealed that Sam and Fangli have been friends this entire time and have more of a brother-sister dynamic, it feels natural. Fangli was quite possibly my favorite character for being so progressive in her depiction.

The Romance- I really like a good hate to love, emphasis on “good”. This trope usually has to be done pretty well for me to like it, and it was done beautifully here. Sam dislikes Gracie right off the bat because he believes she’s in it for the fame and money and will eventually take advantage of Fangli, while Gracie dislikes Sam because of how immediately he starts treating her like an enemy. When they eventually learn to trust each other within the job is when they decide they probably got off on the wrong foot. I always love a relationship that’s built on trust, and it makes the faster pace of their relationship from then on make more sense. Both of them are so cute with each other, and Sam is always so eager to support any of Gracie’s efforts. Seriously wholesome. And the tension between the two of them as well as his protective nature of her during the job that helps establish their trust, makes the romance so much fun to read! You just want to know what’s going to happen next between the two of them!

Adult Female Friendships- This is so important. Gracie does become really close to Fangli and that relationship feels almost as important to the novel as her relationship with Sam. Not only that, but it doesn’t involve anything dramatic. Their relationship is formed through spending time with each other when they need it and just talking. And these scenes are always wholesome and never boring. Gracie also has another friend who she texts all the time. And they don’t have to be together all the time for the friendship to remain strong. This is something that even Gracie realizes throughout the novel; that this relationship is important regardless of how much time they can actually spend together. It really made the friendship feel more adult; because I find that friendships like this are more common with adults. I don’t get the time to hang out with my friends all the time, but when I do it still feels very meaningful to me. I like that representation here.

Health Representation- As I said before, the exploration of mental health and depression through Fangli was one of my favorite parts of this novel. And I loved how the novel made her getting help for it such a win for every character involved. Not to mention that Gracie herself is our main character and is on medication. As someone who has gone through mental health struggles, this was incredibly important for me to see in a novel. And normalizing having mental health struggles every once in a while is more important now than ever. On a different side of health I also like how this normalized having someone with dementia in your life and the struggles of dealing with that. I have someone with dementia in my life and this was also so incredible for me to see. This novel made my experiences not only feel normal, but also common. I can’t stress how important that is.

Assault- I also loved the way this author dealt with sexual assault in the workplace. There was no sugar coating it; it was described to be as messed up as it is. Having a scene where she was able to confront her abuser and succeed in tearing him down was incredible. Not many women are able to do that, so having scenes like this in media are so cathartic. It was handled so well!

The Glamor- The movie premieres, the gorgeous dresses, the romance with the escort; it all completely took you into an entirely different world. I love my escapist fiction! But it also made it real by allowing the celebrities to be human beings and acknowledging some of the falsities that are played up for the public. So well played!

The Bad:

Character Development- There were some issues I had with the character development for a few of the characters. For example; we learned a lot about Sam’s backstory but we didn’t necessarily get too much about how he felt about it. We were told about some of his reactions, but in a lot of instances we didn’t get to see it for ourselves. Just like we didn’t actually get to see Fangli when she wasn’t completely stable, we saw her only when she felt stable enough to talk to Gracie. I liked seeing the story from Gracie’s perspective, but I feel like we only saw the best of other characters on multiple occasions. I also would have liked to get more about Mei considering that she was the answer to the major plot twist at the end of the book. I really felt like I didn’t know anything about her. I just wish we would have gotten a little more!

Pacing- The pacing, specifically of the romance, went a little too fast for me. While I liked that the relationship had a good base, it felt like Sam and Gracie went from a truce to romantically involved in seconds. It was difficult to tell when their feelings grew to that level because it seemed like they just appeared right after the truce. I would have liked a little more of a slow burn with this, especially with the hate to love dynamic. I also had a bit of an issue with the pacing of the ending. We very suddenly find out that Fangli is Gracie’s sister very very close to the end of the novel. Fangli barely gets any time to react to this information and the reader barely has any time to cope with this new information before the novel just ends. I would have liked to see this reveal a little earlier in the novel.

Sudden Breakup- I’m usually not a fan of the sudden breakup trope. It’s usually not needed. As an example; the 90s anime of Sailor Moon incorporated a sudden breakup that didn’t need to happen and did not actually happen in the manga or Crystal. It’s one of the reasons why I like the relationship between Usagi and Mamoru better in Crystal and the manga. Sometimes it’s done well, but I usually don’t like it even then. And I really wasn’t the biggest fan of it here. It happens very suddenly for a really odd reason. Gracie suddenly asks Sam to pretend to be her Mother’s lost brother because her Mother thinks that he is her brother and is having a really difficult day. Sam refuses, for a reason I didn’t quite understand, to the point where they almost start arguing and then Gracie misinterprets a conversation and just leaves. All of it felt a little out of nowhere with not a whole lot of build up. It felt like a really immature move from Gracie too. I wasn’t exactly sure why Sam was so eager to take her back when she was so eager to drop him and in the end they don’t even really talk about the situation with each other before getting back together. It just felt very odd to me.

I did have a couple of issues with this book, but overall it was beautiful! I loved the romance and the emphasis on mental health. I really hope to see more books tackle mental health in this way in the future. And it’s a good wholesome read! It isn’t my new favorite book, but I can see myself returning to it eventually.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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