5 star, YA

Review: If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up in one word: bitch. It’s no surprise she’s queen bee at her private L.A. high school—she’s beautiful, talented, and notorious for her cutting and brutal honesty. So when she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, Andrew, she fears she may have lost him for good. 

In an attempt to win him over, Cameron resolves to “tame” herself, much like Katherine in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. First, she’ll have to make amends with those she’s wronged, which leads her to Brendan, the guy she labelled with an unfortunate nickname back in the sixth grade. At first, Brendan isn’t all that receptive to Cameron’s ploy. But slowly, he warms up to her when they connect over the computer game he’s developing. Now if only Andrew would notice…

But the closer Cameron gets to Brendan, the more she sees he appreciates her personality—honesty and all—and wonders if she’s compromising who she is for the guy she doesn’t even want.

Normally I am very picky when it comes to contemporaries. I enjoy them, they’re my guilty pleasures when I just want a solid read to fall in love with characters and the issues they have to overcome in their own lives, but very rarely do I do so in such a way that it makes me laugh and cry and feel for them the way I have with this book.

If I’m Being Honest features a protagonist I didn’t think I would love that much. Not only is she brutally honest to a fault – like, the word blunt has no meaning in her vocabulary – but she definitely falls under the category of mean girl more than your typical shy girl/people pleasers I find in YA contemporaries as our heroine. Yet, there is something refreshing about her because of this. The authors do not just write her as someone who is “bad” so simply, but is nuanced, especially in the way she becomes “better”.

Cameron Bright has a group of friends who are fine with the way she is. In fact, they appreciate her honesty even if it’s not always the nicest things to say to one another. For example, if asked if they looked super tired with heavy bags under their eyes, the polite answer of “No, you look fine” would never be given because it’s not…honest. Instead, they definitely appreciate her saying “Yes, you look kind of like crap today” so that they always can trust you will let them know the unfiltered truth.

However, the guy she’s crushing on? Andrew? Not so very into this side of her, especially when it lashes out on other people who don’t live up to her standards. When she accidentally releases some of her pent-up frustration on a girl in their class who is the total opposite of her and her crew, Andrew is not impressed. And herein leads Cameron down some strange road loosely tied to her English assignment on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. What if she changed herself – “tamed” herself – into some other person who Andrew would like? Someone “nicer”?

I thought this would be a tale of hilarity and backfired plans but there was such emotional depth to Cameron’s journey. To start her plan, she aims to befriend (or at least get a public apology in) the girl, Paige, whom she yelled at in front of Andrew. But hey, Paige isn’t a sucker so forgiveness doesn’t come that easily when most people know a leopard doesn’t change its spots so quickly.

While this isn’t super clear in the synopsis, this leads to plan B. Make up with the guy she kind of ruined for years with a single nickname he can’t shake. Brendan Rosenfeld. Why would this matter to Paige? Oh, because he is her brother.

I love the tension between their relationship. Obviously, Brendan’s no sucker either. The guy Cameron thought was a total loser in actuality had charm and charisma and is an altogether great guy. As they get to know one another, I could feel the chemistry between them build. And it was delicious and steamy and if one kiss could blow the roof off a building…I’m sure it’s this one.

Yet, this isn’t all of what makes this story so compelling. Because at the heart of it is this question: do you need to change yourself into someone you barely recognize? I feel the answer is two-fold and the book does address a lot of it.

  1. Who are you changing for? Is it for someone else or for yourself? Motivation and the reason for change is super important, even if the outcome is relatively similar.
  2. Is the someone you’re becoming a reinvention of yourself that you truly are not? Or is it someone you strive to be because you want that version more than who you are at the moment?

Obviously at the beginning, Cameron was changing herself for all the wrong reasons: to get Andrew to like her. But that wouldn’t have been true to herself because she wasn’t doing it for her and it wasn’t a version she was convicted that she wanted or needed to be. It was only temporary to land a relationship. So in her discovery of who she wanted to be, I loved that she came to the realization that she doesn’t have to reinvent herself into some false image that isn’t who she really is, especially for someone else. She could be brutally honest but it need not be in the way she did it before. She could do it with more tact and compassion, especially if she tackled the reasons why she lashed out so often at others to minimize her own sense of insecurity and pain.

If that wasn’t a great discussion into this topic, I don’t have many other examples of it in YA literature. Add on top the amazing enemies-to-lovers thing going on between Cameron and Brendan and it was the perfect read. Here was a guy who didn’t want her to compromise herself into someone she wasn’t. He saw her for who she was and he liked her anyway. I mean, if anyone’s experienced her brutal honesty, it’s him. I love the natural progression of their relationship and the ups and downs that surely followed because nothing is so straightforward in life. With all this said, how could I not fall 100% in love with this book? I previously posted about how I didn’t enjoy Wibbroka’s most recent release but I will have to re-evaluate the other novels because I clearly loved this one.

Whether you pick this book up for a fun summer read or because you enjoy a good contemporary, just do it because it’s definitely more than meets the eye. If I’m Being Honest has shot to the top of my recommended book lists where there rarely are contemporaries so you know this one really meant a lot to me.

Overall Recommendation:

If I’m Being Honest is a fun contemporary that has an enemies to lovers romance with real chemistry and heart, but also tackles issues on bullying and changing who you are for less-than-stellar reasons. Following a realistic protagonist who fits a mean girl role that we can oddly empathize with, Cameron made the story come alive as we get upset with her, cry with her and feel joy with her through her journey to “taming” herself for love. While that may not be the solid idea she thinks it is, Brendan made a wonderful love interest with the tension filled chemistry between them and his solid influence in Cameron’s life. I don’t normally rave about contemporaries as easily but this one easily tops my lists. Even if other Wibbroka books didn’t hit you quite right, please give this one a try because it somehow hit every right button for me.

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