Hi! It’s Annie!
Happy Valentine’s Day, even though it’s late! Technically today is actually SAD (Singles Awareness Day), but I’m going to make myself sad and review a great romance-y novel that I loved reading recently. Reading and watching romantic content always makes me feel incredibly single, but despite the fact that I think the romance in this book is cute, it is by no means the most important part of the book. This book was amazing to read as a California native who lives by the LA area as well as great to read for the backstory that it gives the characters and the immense amount of personality that it gives it’s amazingly diverse cast. This book felt simultaneously important and like the absolute perfect read for Valentine’s Day because it celebrates all kinds of love. There’s also a character for pretty much anybody to relate to. Whether or not you relate to the main character, there’s something for everyone to connect to! MAJOR SPOILERS for this book coming up! It is definitely worth the read!
Summary: Clara is well known for being a troublemaker in school and doesn’t feel the need to focus on anything but her friends and the pranks she pulls. When she gets in over her head with a prank and is forced to work at her father’s food truck with her school rival to make up for it, she prepares herself for an absolutely awful summer. But she may learn more about herself than she thinks and make friends that she never expected, including a puppy like boy unfortunately named Hamlet.
Clara- I thought I was going to absolutely hate Clara at the beginning of this book. It really doesn’t help that she is the type of kid that I hated in High School. She thinks she’s above everyone else in an effort to protect herself and shows this off by consistently making trouble for everyone else. She doesn’t seem to care about the consequences of her actions and she feels that she and her friends, and only she and her friends, are cool because they fight the system. In this she doesn’t see her own hypocrisy in looking down on other students. At the beginning of this book I did hate Clara, but I don’t think you’re really supposed to like her. The author has said that Clara is like the opposite of her in school and she wanted to make a story that examined the psyche of these types of students who she also didn’t understand while in High School. As the book goes on you fully understand how Clara is simply insecure and doesn’t exactly know how to deal with it. She’s not super close with her friends even though she would like to think that she is and she still deals with some trauma surrounding the divorce of her parents. Throughout the book she becomes more bearable to everyone including herself, learns more of what it is to be a decent human being, and changes her priorities. By the end of the book she’s gone on a huge journey of self love and self exploration that the reader has gone on with her. She makes mistakes along the way, but that only succeeds in making her humanly flawed. Reading her journey feels so rewarding by the end!
Rose- Rose is the school rival of Clara. She’s incredibly devoted to her grades and school events and stresses about what college she’ll go to. In fact, she’s been diagnosed with anxiety, which made her extremely relatable to me. Rose starts out a little whiny, but just like Clara’s Dad tells her when they’re first trying to work together, Rose is a really cool person. She’s the exact type of grounding force that Clara needs in her life while Clara is able to calm down Rose and be the protector that she needs. Watching them go from enemies to best friends is one of the most important parts of this novel. And I absolutely loved how blunt Rose was around Clara once she felt comfortable. While I never was interested in school events; I did relate to the importance on grades and anxiety so much. As well as the fact that Rose doesn’t feel like she’s had real friendships before she finds her small group here. I also loved that she completely backed off of Hamlet as soon as she realized that he wasn’t interested in her and that Clara also liked him. You see it way too often with rivalries in books with girls that they end up fighting over the guy. It was great that it didn’t happen here!
Hamlet- The adorable puppy of a guy who works at a coffee shop across from where they usually park the food truck. He has an immense amount of energy and always seems to be friendly to absolutely everyone. I think one of my favorite moments with him was how his reaction to Clara’s school friends messing around at the water park eventually also changed Clara’s response to what they were doing. He is absolutely concerned about the safety of everyone and his compassion always inspires other people to be just as compassionate. At the same time he stands up for what he believes in and is unafraid of calling out Clara when she needs it. He’s absolutely adorable and such a wholesome boyfriend character. I just wanted more of him in every chapter! And don’t get me started on how nervous he was to kiss her and how sweet he is to his grandparents. Also, his grandparents were hilarious and a highlight of the book!
The Food Truck- I just really liked the aesthetic that the food truck provided. Firstly, this book takes place in K-Town in Los Angeles. As someone who has done a fair amount of exploring K-Town in LA, I absolutely loved this inside depiction of it. The descriptions of the food and the different kinds of food trucks made my mouth water. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it right now! And I loved the small feeling of it because it felt like it drew the characters even closer together. There’s nothing like characters interacting often in a space where they’re always right over each other’s shoulders. This is not a common setting for a story, but I found it to be an extremely effective one! I genuinely want to see more books, shows, or movies, take place in food trucks!
Father and Daughter- One of the highlights of the book was the way we see how close these two are, and the way Clara realizes how important her Dad is to her as the book goes on. Her Dad has done so much more for her that she doesn’t see or fully appreciate and I loved seeing how her new knowledge made their relationship stronger. Also, I loved her Dad! He had to be one of my favorite characters, if not my favorite. He was hilarious and such a supportive character! Everyone needs someone like this in their life.
LA- Some of the details felt so familiar to me in such a great way. I never expected a book to bring up the California restaurant chain ‘Island’s’, or explain LA traffic in such a real way, or even talk so casually about the local attitude versus the tourist attitude. Such as how LA and California natives don’t at all care about the Hollywood sign but we’re all suckers for the view at night at Griffith Observatory. Little details like that really made this book for me. It felt like a love letter to LA while also being blunt about how much immigrants and their families for generations have done more for the culture of LA than truly any other group of people living there. This book made LA feel immersive too, which makes it a great book to slip into if you want to travel without going anywhere for a little while.
Friendships- I also have to talk about how healthy these takes on friendship were. How the friendships that last and were healthy for the main character were the ones where she didn’t feel that she had to perform. She just felt comfortable and was completely herself. We also got depictions of the friendships that don’t last. Clara’s friends from school expect her to be a certain way even as she starts changing rather than accepting the change. And when they accuse Clara of growing distant, she fully realizes both that she is and that it is the most healthy thing for her at the time. I know I’ve had realizations that I was better off without certain friends as I started to mature and I liked seeing that depiction here. It made me feel like it wasn’t just me!
Romance Development- I loved the romance in this story, don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t really feel like this romance developed in a way that made sense. Clara and Hamlet met maybe twice, barely spoke, and then suddenly they were an item. Clara didn’t even really seem to like him back for a good portion of this book and they only really felt like a couple toward the very end of the story. I honestly thought there was more chemistry between Rose and Clara or even Rose and Hamlet than there was between Hamlet and Clara. I understood why their relationship was beneficial for both of their character development, but I felt like we didn’t really get to see it happen. We didn’t really see them fall in love. The romance felt like a background thing in this novel compared to everything else because of it. I don’t think the plot would have happened much differently without the romance.
Clara- Though I liked her in the end, it was really difficult to like Clara. And I still don’t think I was completely sold on her by the end of the book. She was often cruel to other people and I don’t think she fully recovered from how absolutely mean she could be at the beginning of this book. I would have liked to see her repent for her actions a lot more, and I feel like we barely got to see her do that or even admit that she was extremely wrong for some of what she had done before. She does a really awful thing to her Dad towards the end of the book and though she kind of atones for it, I didn’t feel it fully made up for what she did.
Vegan- There’s a part in this book that a lot of people hated partly for good reason. Clara is cooking a vegan version of a meal and cooks it in the same pan that she cooks the meat in. When Rose scolds her for this, she claims that she doesn’t care and that cooking vegan is too hard. I don’t quite understand why people attacked this in the way that they did. Clara is supposed to be awful at this point of the book and she is absolutely supposed to be wrong. But I do think that the author may have underestimated just how much of an evil action that this was. I don’t think that this was completely forgivable at any point in the book. But I will at least say that this action was supposed to be cruel and the audience is supposed to dislike the main character for doing this.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book! I loved its depiction of LA and the aesthetic around it. While the main character wasn’t my favorite ever or personally relatable to me, I still loved a lot of the messages in this book that were told through the main character. And there were plenty of other things to relate to here as well! I highly recommend this book! If you want a wholesome read that makes you feel like you’re traveling to an awesome place, this is an exhilarating book to pick up!
See you across the pond!