Published by Simon Pulse on April 4, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Contemporary
Source: YA Books Central
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 months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey 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 in real life—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 museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.
And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online 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.
Diversity: 2 – It’s a Start!
Racial-Ethnic: 3 (Porter is Chinese, Hawaiian, and Polynesian; best friend Grace is Nigerian; minor character Davy is Hispanic)
QUILTBAG: 1 (a gay character way in the background)
Disability: 3 (Porter’s dad is missing an arm thanks to a shark; Davy suffers from chronic pain due to a surfing injury)
Intersectionality: 3 (see above; bothered that Porter’s Polynesian heritage is not specified)
Jenn Bennett is best known for her bestselling urban fantasy novels, but she’s clearly getting into the YA contemporary game. She’s building a fanbase among YA readers too based on how many of my friends were in love with The Anatomical Shape of a Heart! Alas, that novel failed to enchant me on that level. Hate-to-love between two people who unknowingly have been talking to each other online for ages, though? YES. Alex, Approximately is a step up with a cute couple and a whole lot of dramatic irony.
Seeing as Bailey and her online friend Alex met and bonded over movies, it’s fitting each chapter begins with a movie quote from a wide variety of films that include Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and 10 Things I Hate About You. There’s no film snobbery in the quote choices! Bailey comes to dislike Porter after he makes fun of her mismatched shoes at her job orientation, but she reluctantly grows fond of him and the sexy dillweed becomes less of a dillweed (but no less sexy).
Their slow-burn romance is the main focus of the novel, but Bailey’s efforts to settle in with her dad aren’t neglected. After an unfortunate incident involving one of her lawyer mother’s clients stalking the family on the East Coast, Bailey decided to move out to California to finish out high school and get away from what happened. The exact circumstances, like many other facets of Bailey and Porter’s lives, takes it time to unfold. In the meantime, readers get an incredibly fun read with a sweet, healthy relationship. When Bailey begins to neglect her friendship with co-worker Grace, the latter even calls Bailey out on it in a way you don’t see often enough in YA.
So Alex, Approximately in three words: SO MUCH FUN. Also props for making a subtle reference to the fact that girls masturbate. A girl doing unspeakable things to herself under the covers while thinking about her crush? Yeah, you can try to fight me on the meaning of that, but you’ll lose.
Anyway, one thing that baffles me: how the jacket copy reveals Alex’s identity when the novel itself keeps a lid on it until the book’s penultimate chapter. It takes the dramatic irony overboard for Bailey to be kept in “suspense” for so long when the readers has known since the very beginning. The novel would have been better served cut down to about 250 pages with the Alex reveal earlier in the book/Porter still being a bit of a douche. Conflict after that point: Bailey trying to consolidate Alex with Porter.
On the subject of representation, I’m happy to see that Porter is Polynesian through his mother’s family, but exactly which Polynesian ethnic group his family comes from is left unspecified. There are about 1,000 islands in Polynesia and more than a few ethnic groups. Samoan, Tongan, Maori,… Leaving that facet of his identity unspecified contributes to the rampant generalization of all the different cultures and ethnic groups within the region.
It’s a good thing Alex, Approximately is an April release because it’s the perfect summer romance for teens to read once school is out. They might even read it a little early just to get in the spirit for the season’s arrival! Bennett’s sophomore YA novel is a marked improvement from her first and makes it certain I’ll be keeping an eye out for further YA novels from her.