Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett
Published April 4, 2017 by Simon Pulse

In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent half of her junior year falling for a sensitive film geek she only knows online as “Alex.” Two coasts separate them until she moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist trap, the oddball Cavern Palace Museum. Or that she’s being tormented daily by Porter Roth, a smart-alecky yet irritatingly hot museum security guard. But when Porter and Bailey are locked in the museum overnight, Bailey is forced to choose whether she should cling to a dreamy fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex. Approximately.

True to the synopsis, this is an absolutely delightful, charming novel that is well done on so many levels - writing, plot, and characterization. I finished reading feeling happy, and we can always use some happy.

The tone and dialogue is on point. Jenn Bennett is hilarious. Case in point, Bailey day dreaming about meeting her online friend and crush, Alex: "He’ll be wonderful, and by the end of the summer, we’ll be crazy in love, watching North by Northwest at the film festival on the beach, and I’ll have my hands all over him. Which is what I spend a lot of my free time imagining myself doing to his virtual body, the lucky boy."

The plot is also realistic, following Bailey as she gets settled into her new town and new job the summer before her senior year. Romantic scenes are handled skillfully, making it appropriate for younger ages, as in Bailey's description of making out with her boyfriend, "...time to park at Lovers Point Park and watch the sunset behind the cypress trees as the waves crashed over the beach. Or, in our case, not watch the sunset. Which is what we ended up doing. A lot." Bennett is also sex positive, emphasizes a healthy, consensual relationship, while also capturing the teenage nerves of exploring new territory.

Bennett's novel is a love letter to California and it's surf culture and cinematic ties, and it's reflected in the diversity of characters. I'm so glad that there are more and more novels that reflect the world as it is. Alex is an interracial cutie and Bailey's new best friend, Grace, is Nigerian-British-American. There are people of color, but that's not their defining characteristic. Bennett also introduces the many multicultural foods that are readily available in California, but perhaps less familiar to readers: churros, posole, and jolof. Her descriptions of the fictional town of Coronado Cove, based on Santa Cruz, are vivid. Each chapter is proceeded by an very apt quote from a film. An altogether enchanting book, this is one of my top reads this summer.

Rating: 5 Stars

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