- Page Count: 384
- Release Date: May 16, 2017
- My Rating: 4 stars
There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.
Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?
Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.
What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.
That was just hilariously brilliant. I was super hesitant to pick it up because I was looking forward to it so much and then heard it was a letdown, but I ended up laughing the whole way through.
First of all, I think I read this way differently than others did. I thought that the fact that certain parts weren’t quite realistic was the point of this parody. It completely felt and sounded like a combination of SO many other YA books (mostly the dystopian & paranormal romance ones), yet never took itself too seriously and totally knew what it was doing the whole time. I thought it was delightfully self-aware and COMPLETELY accurate. It highlighted the absurdity of those stories and felt like an affectionate eye roll towards them… like the author really knows his material and cares.
The basic idea is that there’s an agency that trains people to be Love Interests, which are spies who are planted with Chosen ones who show great potential for the future (so like the president’s wife is a Love Interest). The Love Interests gather info to report back for the rest of their life. They’re sorted into Nice or Bad and are given the appropriate training/surgically enhanced look – obviously they’re all super buff and hope to be placed while they’re in high school (because that’s when everyone meets the love of their life).
The MC is given the name of Caden and is up against a Bad named Dylan. They’re told that whomever Juliet (their Chosen) doesn’t pick is killed off, so there’s that added incentive to survive. Buuut then they end up being attracted to each other and are reluctant to see the other die. They remind each other that “the only way for us both to survive is to make sure we’re both important to the plot… if Cho Chang can make it to the Battle of Hogwarts, then we can get through this.” But Caden’s not sure if Dylan’s really into to him or if it’s all part of the role he’s playing in order to win.
Some of the highlights of Caden’s initial exit interview as he delivers the lines he’s been trained on (while thinking what BS the whole thing is) are:
Why do you think your Chosen should pick you?”
“I don’t. I just hope she does… I want her to pick whoever will make her the happiest. And if she’s a better fit with him, I’ll gladly accept my fate.”
“If you caught your Chosen kissing your rival, what would you do?”
(Cue hurt/betrayed look)
“I’d walk away. Next time I saw her… I’d tell her she doesn’t ever have to explain herself to me, and that I only responded in that manner because I love her so damn much. I’d her I’m glad it hurts because it proves how much I care.”
“Do you think you will fall in love with her?”
“It doesn’t matter. She’s the hero of the story, so how I feel is irrelevant.”
And I loved how the story delivers all of this with a totally straight face. As soon as the Love Interests go into the field they lose their whole identity and just become whatever the girl wants them to be. Caden reminds himself he’s just a blank page waiting to be filled at the start. And I’m glad Dylan reacted to the role he had to play in the same way I do while reading so many YA books:
“Tomorrow in gym I need to be aggressive toward her. You know she’s taking self-defense as an elective, right? Well, tomorrow I’m supposed to hurt her… apparently it’ll make me seem like a tortured soul who is lashing out, because I can’t handle all the epic, sexy pain within me. And apparently that will make Juliet think she can fix me, to help me deal, and that will make her fall for me. I dunno, a lot of it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Both boys are directed by coaches via implants, so they can hear instructions in each moment. At one point Caden’s coach reminds him he’s lucky to be a Love Interest and not a Solo because then he’d have to be both nice and bad, jump through a ton of hoops, and be so obsessed with the Chosen that he’d get no free time.
And of course Dylan’s role involves fending off men trying to steal Juliet’s purse, reading poetry books in public, being rude, and saving her from a speeding vehicle. Meanwhile Caden works at the local coffeeshop Juliet frequents and assumes the role of her childhood friend who moved away.
I thought Caden’s narration was a little annoying at first until I got a feel for the book’s tone. I loved how the story messed with whether he was Nice or Bad (and the eventual idea of what it meant to be good), and whether he was the love interest, protagonist, or antagonist. And I loved all of the commentary on the roles the boys had to play. The story somehow made fun of tropes even while following them in a traditional YA format (and being totally self-aware about it).
It would be really easy for a story like this to just make things happen because that’s what it needed to parody, but it somehow managed to fit everything into a plot that found clever reasons for all of the cliche scenarios. Like Caden’s “parents” are neglectful because they were rejected Love Interests who had their minds wiped, and the whole rebel movement is seen as exactly what they are: a small group of teenagers.
The story was never super complex, but I saw that as intentional, too… like its style matched the YA stories it was a parody of. It was just fun to see an entertaining story call everything out while still being part of the genre. And maybe I loved it so much because I went into it with low expectations, but it really worked for me!