book: I Think I Love You by Auriane Desombre
publisher & imprint: Underlined, an imprint of Delacorte Press
rep: lesbian mc, bi woman mc
cw: divorce, misogyny
rating: 2/5 stars
release date: March 2nd, 2021
links to buy*: https://bookshop.org/a/13798/9780593179765
*this is an affiliate link. if you use it, i will get a small commission.
I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. All my opinions are my own.
Coming out March 2nd, 2020, I Think I Love You by Auriane Desombre is a YA rom-com published by Underlined, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It is the author’s debut novel though she has been featured in an anthology.
From the publisher’s website, “A YA contemporary rom com about two girls who start as rivals but after a twist of events, end up falling for one another–at least they think so. A pitch perfect queer romance–and it’s a paperback original!
Arch-nemeses Emma, a die-hard romantic, and more-practical minded Sophia find themselves competing against one another for a coveted first-prize trip to a film festival in Los Angeles . . . what happens if their rivalry turns into a romance? For fans of Becky Albertalli’s Leah on the Offbeat, full of laugh-out-loud humor and make-your-heart-melt moments.” (link)
A big issue I had with this book was the main romantic relationship. This is a rivals to lovers romance, a trope I tend to adore. However there are some very pivotal ways that it, or any other flavor of hate to love in a contemporary, can go wrong. One of those ways is when one of the characters treats the other so much worse than the character treats them. I don’t mean being mean or rude, I mean treating their love interest legitimately terribly while the love interest is just a bit rude. This is what happened here.
Emma, one of the love interests, constantly went straight to personal attacks when talking to Sophia. Sophia once critiqued the idea that Emma had for the movie and instead of rebuking her argument or really just saying any valid critique of Sophia’s own lack of ideas, Emma jumps straight to childish ad hominem attacks about how Sophia is anti-love and that makes her a terrible person. Later in the same scene Emma calls Sophia unprovoked. Their level of animosity towards each other just didn’t really compare and it didn’t work for me.
I am not saying Sophia is entirely innocent here because she does say some bitter and unnecessary comments about love to a girl she knows is obsessed with it but her comments never read to be as needlessly cruel like Emma’s do.
Another issue I had was the very basis of the relationship. Their friends lied to them and convinced Emma that Sophia was in love with her and Sophia that Emma was in love with her. Which. Just. What the fuck? That is so messed up and kept me from ever actually rooting from the relationship and made me absolutely despise the friends.
Now a typical plot point in books like this is that the characters were actually always in love with each other. For a while I thought that the book was going to subvert that expectation because there were no hints that they liked each other and there was no romantic tension between them at the start. But no. Apparently there were always supposed to be in love and that just didn’t come across whatsoever.
For me a large part of the appeal is that hate to love for me is to see the characters grow and change. However there is very little actual character development in the book.
Emma remains stagnant, her toxic qualities are ignored. She does not become less self-centered, she doesn’t ever begin to see Sophia’s point of view, and the person she was at the start of the novel is not very different from who she is in the end. There’s never a moment where she stops and reflects about how poorly she treated Sophia even once they are finally friendly.
There were also points where she was very very obviously wrong but the narrative treats her as if she didn’t do anything wrong and it just… left me very frustrated.
I wouldn’t even say she has a more realistic view of love because she doesn’t, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, especially for a rom-com, but nothing else about her changes either.
Sophia is the more nuanced character here. We get a better look into her personal life than we do Emma’s and it’s generally more interesting. She also has character growth. At the start she is very much anti-love due to her parents divorce and her mom moving away to Paris but she learns to accept love and understand it.
And she isn’t perfect by any means. She is petty and insecure but growth happens there and her flaws just grated on me less than Emma’s did. Which I am almost surely biased here because I did relate more to Sophia than I did Emma.
The plot was a mess. It wasn’t strictly a very messy plot but it didn’t work for a romance book, not one bit. Two much time was focused away from the main couple for it to ever really feel like a romance book.
A subplot about a heterosexual couple took up a lot of the page time. Maybe this came from Much Ado About Nothing but I wouldn’t know and, frankly, it should have been dropped even if it was. We get so much time spent on getting these two heterosexual characters together, and on the drama between them to the point where the low point of the book is reliant on them. And I simply did not care about them.
It also took so much time away from the main couple. The narrative never lingers on them, never really gives us more than one or two scenes of them together, because of all the time that has to be dedicated to the heterosexual couple. I love to see the antagonistic flirting, the cute fluffiness, and everything else about the relationship and its development. But here we only got the tiniest morsel of a taste of that.
This book is important. It has important representation. It’s a book about two sapphic girls and they have a happy ending. It’s a book that has a bi character that avoids a lot of the major stereotypes about bi people. And it has some incredibly meaningful conversations about the importance of representation that I loved. And I am so very sad that I didn’t love this book more.
While more things about this book annoyed me, I am going to end here because my criticisms get increasingly more nitpicky and less meaningful.
I think a lot of people are going to love this book. I think it’s a very, very important book. But it simply wasn’t for me. Maybe it’s time for me to say goodbye to YA contemporaries like this.