AUTHOR: Nina Kenwood
CATEGORY/AUDIENCE: Young Adult
GENRE: Contemporary, Romance
RELEASE: April 7, 2020
PUBLISHER: Flatiron Books
LINKS: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository
Post-high school life isn’t going exactly the way Natalie thought it would: first, her parents announce their divorce, and worse, everyone is being calm and collected about it when Natalie feels anything but. To top it off, her two best friends Zach and Lucy have recently coupled, leaving Natalie feeling like a third wheel–not to mention the fact that she always assumed she would end up with Zach. But things start to lighten up when she begins unexpectedly spending more time with Alex, Zach’s older brother, and a montage of awkward crush feelings, blushing, and secret kissing ensues.
This YA contemporary from Australian author Nina Kenwood is a refreshing slice-of-life story that is immensely readable and hilarious. It Sounded Better in My Head is a light-hearted romance that deals with some heavy issues, too. Natalie’s parents’ impending divorce has turned her world upside down and confused and scared about how this affects her future. Her parents never fought, and she’s shocked by the revelation that they’re not happy in their marriage. Nina Kenwood has accurately captured the moment where we begin to see our parents not just as our parents, but as people.
Natalie is without a doubt one of the most relatable characters I’ve encountered in recent YA contemporary releases. She’s insecure and afraid to let herself be seen or to admit what she wants in life. Throughout the novel, Natalie is particularly sensitive and embarrassed about her acne and scarring, and it was incredibly refreshing to see acne acknowledged and talked about so openly. Natalie’s story is very much about getting out of your own way and realizing you deserve the things you want.
Natalie is also experiencing growing pains in her friendship as she watches Zach and Lucy develop a relationship that doesn’t include her. Her friends Zach and Lucy both felt realistic, and Natalie’s complex feelings abuot the changing nature of their friendship is so real, and certainly something many of us have experienced. She’s not sure what the future holds or what her life will look like now that high school is over. Teens approaching graduation, or those who have recently graduated will truly relate to Natalie’s fears about the future. It is worth noting that the central characters were straight, white, and cis–I would have loved to see some more diversity in the cast of characters.
While strained friendship and changing family dynamics are certainly big parts of the story, It Sounded Better in My Head is ultimately a romance. But it’s definitely not a swoony, dramatic true love story–it’s an authentic, realistic, awkward, and sweet story of first like. There’s no sweeping romance; instead, it’s about navigating crushes and all the awkward moments that come with it. Alex isn’t a perfect love interest, and he’s the total opposite of Natalie. Natalie’s insecurities and body image are major barriers to her letting her have the romance she wants, and that’s something that’s accurate for many young folks. I adored the awkwardness of their romance, because it felt so real!
This is a slice-of-life novel that follows Natalie as she navigates changing friendships, a new crush, and life after high school. While those who like books heavy on plot might not be the right readers for It Sounded Better in My Head, Natalie’s relatable fears and quirks will find her story a loving home with many. Kenwood’s writing is easy to read and I was able to read it in just a few hours, the doses of awkward moments a perfect way to brighten a weekend reading session. Natalie has a fresh, funny, and witty voice, making it a fun read. It Sounded Better in My Head was pleasantly full of nostalgia, reminding me of the hilarious series Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging. This book is also perfect for fans of popular authors like Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty, Rachel Cohn, or Carolyn Mackler. Many teen readers will love this awkward, realistic contemporary romance; when recommending it to teens at my library, I’ll be pairing it alongside #OwnVoices YA romance by authors of color, like American Panda by Gloria Chao, or Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi, which will go well with Natalie’s funny, fresh voice.
Thank you to Flatiron Books and Edelweiss+ for the free review copy.