4.5 star, YA

Review: Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

In Perfect on Paper: a bisexual girl who gives anonymous love advice to her classmates is hired by the hot guy to help him get his ex back.

Her advice, spot on. Her love life, way off.

Darcy Phillips:
• Can give you the solution to any of your relationship woes―for a fee.
• Uses her power for good. Most of the time.
• Really cannot stand Alexander Brougham.
• Has maybe not the best judgement when it comes to her best friend, Brooke…who is in love with someone else.
• Does not appreciate being blackmailed.

However, when Brougham catches her in the act of collecting letters from locker 89―out of which she’s been running her questionably legal, anonymous relationship advice service―that’s exactly what happens. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy begrudgingly agrees to become his personal dating coach―at a generous hourly rate, at least. The goal? To help him win his ex-girlfriend back.

Darcy has a good reason to keep her identity secret. If word gets out that she’s behind the locker, some things she’s not proud of will come to light, and there’s a good chance Brooke will never speak to her again.

Okay, so all she has to do is help an entitled, bratty, (annoyingly hot) guy win over a girl who’s already fallen for him once? What could go wrong?

Can I first say that I feel this book is such a breath of fresh air to read? While I have read a number of LGTBQ+ books with protagonists in the community over the last few years, I don’t see bisexual protagonists as much, let alone those who may be attracted to the opposite sex. Perfect on Paper is a wonderful love letter to those who are a part of the community but still struggle with truly belonging.

Let’s start with the premise of this book. I love relationship advice columns (in my head mostly starting with “Dear Annie”). They’re like my little guilty pleasures to read sometimes. Maybe it’s because they’re anonymous and people feel like they can divulge their biggest secrets and won’t be judged for it. Oh boy, are there some crazy stories I’ve read. Maybe it’s the interesting advice that the columnist returns after reading said crazy stories. Like, I wouldn’t even know where to start tackling half of the issues that may be presented in one story alone!

Darcy considers herself kind of an expert on relationships. She’s always been fascinated with relationship bloggers and gurus, watching these videos online and reading books. So, I can honestly say, I’m super impressed regardless with the answers she gives the students in her high school with the breadth of relationship problems they come to her with. From knowing our different attachment styles (I think I’m probably anxiously attached from the sounds of all this psychoanalysis?) to moving on from relationships in a healthy manner, I feel like I’ve learned about relationships myself while reading this.

The catch? Darcy operates this all anonymously. As in, no one knows it’s her answering all of these letters dropped into locker 89 at school. And mostly, she has no idea who is writing her these letters. Mostly.

In comes the hot Australian guy who figures out her identity. But instead of turning her in to the school? He hires her to help him, in person, with his own relationship problem: getting back with the ex he still really cares for.

Now, Darcy is bi and is 100% in love with her lesbian best friend, Brooke. Who has absolutely no clue she’s in love with her. Helping a brooding boy should be no problem for Darcy, right?

I love that this romance truly explores the breadth of attraction someone who identifies as bi could and would have. The fact that people would be upset that Darcy would even think about Brougham in any non-platonic way is just wrong. She could be attracted to him and that is fine. Sophie Gonzales does well in exploring internalized (and external) biphobia. Darcy struggled with feeling like she could still belong in the community if she ended up wanting to date a guy instead of a girl. I like that it doesn’t gloss over this but organically work it out through Darcy’s own choices and experiences. The author really hit the nail on this as I know it was the main stance she wanted to emphasize here.

Aside from this, the story itself was a great contemporary you’d find elsewhere in YA, full of miscommunication and character growth. Brougham and Darcy’s initial wariness turned into something truly special as they learned more about one another in the time spent together. I particularly love that Brougham brought the best out of Darcy, even getting her to reflect on the hard stuff she didn’t want to. For example, was she really the best relationship expert out there to be guiding so many lost teens, especially after just reading one letter of potentially small word count? Or did she have some room to grow and improve? To me, that’s what a good partner should do for one another.

Personally, I only wish this book was a little bit longer. I would’ve loved to see more of these characters grow and flourish as they figure things out day by day with one another. I sped through this in two sittings, I could barely put it down when I had to do actual work.

It’s also full of representation across the queer community. Not to be left out, Darcy’s sister, Ainsley, is trans and it’s nice that this doesn’t have to be a story that focuses on her decision and transformation but just accepts that she is already who she is at the beginning of it. It reminds me of one of my friends whom I met in the process of his transformation, and the way this book approached the trans community makes me think he’d really like this one too.

All in all, I have glowing things to say about Perfect on Paper. I cannot absolutely say if all people in the community feel like they’re well represented here as I have no say for them, but I hope they feel like they’re seen, particularly those who are bi. I personally learned something and I look forward to more from Sophie.

Overall Recommendation:

Perfect on Paper takes us on a cute story with anonymous love advice and a love triangle. Sounds like it could be familiar? It might, but this one does it uniquely with its exploration of the queer community, particularly focusing on people who identify as bi. Darcy, queen of relationship advice, finds herself in a partnership with Brougham to help him win back his ex-girlfriend. While initially being in love with her best friend Brooke, suddenly she feels torn between her and Brougham. The question the author poses is a wonderful reflection about what this story is about: can Darcy be a part of the community she’s always belonged in if she were to be with a guy? Equally delightful and entertaining, I’ve never read a book quite like this yet and I hope those in the community find it just as interesting of a read.

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