In a perfect world, sixteen-year-old Phoebe Martins’ life would be a book. Preferably a YA novel with magic and a hot paranormal love interest. Unfortunately, her life probably wouldn’t even qualify for a quiet contemporary. But when Phoebe finds out that Dev, the hottest guy in the clarinet section, might actually have a crush on her, she turns to her favorite books for advice. Phoebe overhauls her personality to become as awesome as her favorite heroines and win Dev’s heart. But if her plan fails, can she go back to her happy world of fictional boys after falling for the real thing?
A book about a girl who likes YA books! Well, obviously I’m going to want to read that.
I’ve read a lot of books with reader protagonists over the years, but in some of them it kind of feels like the love for reading is an informed trait, you know? With Phoebe, this is not the case at all. Her love for books goes beyond the surface. She waits in line for hours to get a book signed by her favorite author. She stays up until 5 AM to finish a book she loves. She compares situations in life to books on a regular basis. At one point, she takes out a book at a school dance and starts reading. Literally all of these are things I have done at some point in my life.
At the same time, Phoebe never feels like a parody of herself, which is something I was worried about when I read the summary. She loves archery and knitting and plays in the school band, and she has a great relationship with her best friend, and she tries to put herself out there but isn’t always sure how. She feels like a real person, and someone I would like to be friends with.
I’ve been anticipating the release of Bookishly Ever After since late 2014, and it left me completely satisfied. It was exactly the cute, fluffy contemporary I needed to read at the time. (Side note: I actually won an annotated ARC on a Twitter giveaway! Isabel Bandeira’s annotations made my reading experience even better and made me kind of want to learn to knit.) Phoebe’s relationship with Dev was adorable, and her love for books made the story a joy for me to read.
Okay, as much as I love slow romantic build-up and extended courtships, I think this one was a little bit too extended. There were so many scenes where Phoebe and Dev flirt a little and then Phoebe chickens out or they get interrupted. and eventually it got repetitive. This book could easily have been 70 pages shorter and worked just as well.
Dev has a decoy love interest named Lexie, and she’s presented in such an overwhelmingly negative fashion that I actually felt bad for her. Even though Phoebe herself is never really antagonistic towards her, and of course the narrative portrays her as clingy and rude and basically a two-dimensional stereotype, and I’m just so tired of books where the romantic rival (especially the female romantic rival) is written that way.
I love the way Isabel Bandeira portrays book love in general. As mentioned before, every detail of Phoebe’s book obsession felt extremely true to life, and I loved the frequency with which her favorite characters popped up in her thoughts and influenced her behavior. I also loved that, although Phoebe sometimes uses fiction to hide from reality, when she finally decides to make a move it’s her favorite fictional heroines who inspire her to be strong enough to do it. A lot of people only talk about the effect of books in one way or the other, and I love that with Phoebe’s bookishness, it’s not that simple. I also liked that the notes Phoebe takes in her books start out as specific behaviors to imitate, but by the end of the book they’re more about things like courage and confidence.
Another thing I love about Phoebe is her tendency to see the best in people. When she thinks Dev is dating Lexie, she admires Lexie’s courage and confidence. After she has an unpleasant interaction with Kris, she doesn’t think of him as a jerk, the way her friends do, only as someone who isn’t right for her. This part of her thought process was just so refreshing.
Phoebe and Dev were so, so cute–exactly the kind of romance I like to see. They were friends first, and they have this amazing easy banter that’s just a delight to read. Even though he jokes about Phoebe’s books sometimes, he’s never dismissive; he’s genuinely interested when she goes all book nerd, and he even picks up a YA book at the store and quite enjoys it. He’s one of those love interests who is just the right distance from perfect that he feels like a human being, while still being pretty freaking close.
The secondary characters were also really fun–my personal favorite was Grace, the fashionable lesbian cheerleader. In the second half of the book, Phoebe works as a counselor in an outdoor camp, and the scenes with her campers were just so much fun. (The campers all make no secret of shipping Phoebe and Dev, which is maybe a little cheesy but so much fun to read!)
There are snippets of Phoebe’s favorite YA books in-between some chapter, usually with notes from Phoebe on which bits of the character’s behavior can help with her romantic situation. I usually am not a fan of the story-within-a-story–I skimmed over the Simon/Baz bits of Fangirl and Darcy’s novel in Afterworlds–but I actually really enjoyed the ones in this book, and I would have loved to read more of some of the stories!
Pick up if you’re ever in the mood for an adorable fluffy romance with a character who fangirls about books just as much as you do!