Thursday, 5 February 2015

CBR7 2: Trade Me, Courtney Milan

Pages: 280 in PB although I read the Kindle vcrsion
Time taken: ~3 hours (does anyone actually time these? I read about 100 pages per hour or the average book, I just guess based on that.)
Tina Chen has a loving but disorganised family, a job in a library, two majors, and a room-mate. Blake Reynolds has a loving but asshole father, a job at a high-tech company, one major, and $1.4billion (US). An argument over food-stamps and the reality of living in poverty in the US leads Blake to offer Tina to swap lives for the rest of the semester: she deals with the product launch he's supposed to be working on, and he lives her life, working minimum-wage jobs, sending money home, and living in squalor. There is indeniable chemistry between them, but can two people who come from such opposite worlds really be compatible?
Spoiler alert: dur, of course they can, this is a romance novel. We do not read these because we wish our hearts shattered into tiny pieces. Milan has made her career out of writing thoughtful, strong heroines hooking up with thoughtful, flawed heroes, while adding enough social commentary to satisfy my Social Justice Elementalist heart (if you don't know what that means, good for you, it's for the best right now), and this fits right in, albeit with fewer descriptions of clothes, which I personally missed. I like purple prose. It makes me happy. I like fabrics. (Also corsets. Big goth right here.)
I've seen this described as New Adult, which I guess it is, given the relative youth of the protagonists and smexy times combination. It certainly annoyed me less than the YA stuff I read last year and neglected to review - apparently I like my heroines to be either out of their teens, or on an obvious Hero's Journey/Coming Of Age type thing, which I suppose makes me either terribly boring or nearly 33 and hence very tired of teenagers. Or both. I can only take introspection so far.
What the book does really, really well is the thing I am going to term SPOILERS REDACTED. If you want more thoughts, go through the jump. Otherwise, read the Cannonball Read review.

Disordered eating is far more common than people realise, and it frequently has elements of obsessive and compulsive behaviour. The descriptions in the text made it obvious to me right from the first mention. What made this stand out was that the sufferer wasn't the dedicated and detail-oriented Tina, but the brilliant and brittle Blake. Eating disorders are seen as feminine problems, both in fiction and in reality, to the point where they are under-diagnosed in male sufferers. (Feel free to add this to your list of Why Patriarchy Is Bad. I know I do.) The fact that Blake suffers from an eating disorder is both a brave decision for an author to make, and an important one.

The stuff that went less well for me was the social commentary stuff. There wasn't enough of it, for my angry socialist liberal European money. I suspect (I am suspicious, apparently) that it's much more geared towards American sensibilities, which are very different even if no-one seems to notice most of the time. There is more than one place in the novel where the greatest lie of the brand of capitalism practised in the US - that everyone is equal and that success and failure are due to how hard you work - is gently dismantled. But not explicitly, and a lot of the details of the arguments are glossed over or missed entirely. Is this how social change has to happen? Well, probably, yes. But it doesn't mean it has to sit well with me.
4 stars: will definitely get the other books, would like more corsetry and/or social justice. Recommended to everyone old enough to read porn.

Cross-posted to Cannonball Read here.

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