An academic enemies-to-lovers YA with all the nerdy drama, high school antics, and heartpounding romance of the Netflix original series Never Have I Ever
Since high school began, Alison Sanger and Ethan Molloy have competed on almost everything. AP classes, the school paper, community service, it never ends. If Alison could avoid Ethan until graduation, she would. Except, naturally, for two over-achieving seniors with their sights on valedictorian and Harvard, they share all the same classes and extracurriculars. So when their school’s principal assigns them the task of co-planning a previous class’s ten-year reunion, with the promise of a recommendation for Harvard if they do, Ethan and Alison are willing to endure one more activity together if it means beating the other out of the lead.
But with all this extra time spent in each other’s company, their rivalry begins to feel closer to friendship. And as tension between them builds, Alison fights the growing realization that the only thing she wants more than winning…is Ethan.
While enemies to lovers trope is one that many people thoroughly enjoy, I found What’s Not to Love just a tad bit over the line in the enemies territory for comfort. Ethan and Alison have spent their high school years with a rivalry that’s borderline toxic for not just themselves but those around them. If one can handle their constant arguments and one-upping one another, then by all means this is a novel for you.
I really wanted to love this book. It’s my first Wibbroka novel and it sounded so cute in the synopsis. But Ethan and Alison each have some deep-seated issues. Let’s dig in shall we?
Alison is the kind of girl who has everything planned out. Literally everything. She has her life planned to the minute detail, where to study, what to study and what’d she do for a living. That’s not wholly a bad thing. Having a whiteboard of sorts in her room that collected all the details of what she had rondo for school, extracurriculares and more? Okay, cool.
What is problematic was her going off on her older, adult sister who had just been laid off and dumped by her fiancé. Yes, having to move back home into your high school bedroom in your mid-twenties might not be a first choice, but Alison really went at her at times for “not having a plan” and reverting back to her teenage self. Gotta give the girl a break, you know? It seems like she’s been through a lot.
Then there’s Ethan. Cocky, rude with most of his comments aimed at Alison, and making stolid choices to get back at her that was also detrimental to others. For example, going behind Alison’s back with the story he was writing for their high school newspaper that would be on the front page, but selling it to a local newspaper instead. This ruined the whole student newspaper staff from submitting this entry for a prestigious contest. Sure, Alison as editor in chief suffered but it hurt everybody.
Put these two together? Toxic. Even the teachers couldn’t stand them together yet they had all their classes together.
When things took a turn toward the romantic, it almost didn’t seem believable. The authors were good to keep the characters with their personalities because a crush isn’t gonna magically turn someone into the oposite of who they are. I can appreciate that but that didn’t meant I liked it.
I had high hopes for this book but like a train wreck, I just couldn’t look away. Maybe it’s also because I prefer (best) friends to lovers more as a trope but I think even those who do enjoy this trope may not love that the balance of enemies tipped over a bit behind lovable. What’s Not to Love had great potential but it fell shorter than I had hoped.
What’s Not to Love could’ve been the enemies-to-lovers story of this year yet it pushed too far over the line towards enemies to make their potential relationship cute or fun. Both Alison and Ethan are brilliant students but wrestling with their individual issues that alone are super problematic. If you can get over their toxic attitudes and selfish behavior, then by all means this is the book for you. While I didn’t love this by any means, I wouldn’t say I hated it as there were minor plot points I enjoyed. Maybe the next Wibbroka novel will be better.