REVIEW | Perfect on Paper

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Last year I read and loved Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales, and I was so excited to read her new YA novel, Perfect on Paper! I’m pleased to report that I LOVED IT.

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cover of Perfect on Paper. Orange with three teens in school uniforms standing against brick wall.

Title: Perfect on Paper

Author: Sophie Gonzales

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release date: March 9, 2021

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Synopsis: “In Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect on Paper, Leah on the Offbeat meets To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: 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?”

My review

Everyone knows that you can get personalized relationship advice by slipping a letter and a $10 bill into locker #89. What no one knows is that Darcy Phillips is the one who’s been behind the locker for the last two years. Darcy loves giving relationship advice, and she knows she’s good at it–but she also knows that she’d be in big trouble if the truth got out. Things get turned upside down when a classmate, Brougham, catches Darcy opening the locker after school. In exchange for keeping her secret, Darcy agrees to help him win back his ex-girlfriend. As she spends more time with Brougham, she realzies he might be more than the cocky, arrogant guy she thought he was. Meanwhile, Darcy is also fielding an unrequited crush for her best friend Brooke. What could possibly go wrong?

Perfect on Paper is a hilarious, heart-warming YA rom-com that I absolutely could not put down. The budding romance between Darcy and Brougham was endearing and swoon-worthy. As Darcy gets to know Brougham, she learns that there’s so much more to him than she thought. Underneath his confident exterior, he carries a lot of fears, hurts, and anxieties. This love story is very much about seeing people in new ways, being willing to show people who you are, and rethinking the assumptions we make.

This novel has a lot of light-hearted, sweet moments with some complex discussions of identity. Darcy is bisexual, and as she begins to develop feelings for Brougham, she worries about what this means for her queerness: Will being with a guy make her less queer? Will other queer folks think she’s turning her back on the community? Throughout the novel, Darcy struggles with these questions and has to interrogate biphobia, both internalized and externalized. Sophie Gonzales presents excellent bi rep and presents an important conversation on biphobia within the queer community. I loved that Perfect on Paper is a m/f romance that 100% affirms and celebrates bi identity.

Perfect on Paper isn’t only a romance–it’s also a love story about friendship, sisterhood, and community. Darcy has a robust group of friends that really came to life off the page. She’s active in her school’s Queer & Questioning Club, and I loved the scenes involving club meetings that highlighted a diverse range of identities: aspec, lesbian, gay, trans, non-binary, bi, and more intersecting with a range of BIPOC identities. These scenes carried so many important conversations around queerness, identity, and community. As a queer reader, I totally found myself wishing I’d had a support system like Darcy’s when I was a teen.

In terms of representation among main characters: our protagonist, Darcy, is a bisexual white girl, and love interest Brougham is a straight white boy from Australia. Darcy’s best friend Brooke, who Darcy’s been crushing on for years, is a lesbian Vietnamese American girl. Darcy’s older sister Ainsley is trans, and ended up being one of my favorite characters in the book. I loved the bond of sisterhood between Darcy and Ainsley and could honestly just read a whole book about their relationship.

Obviously, Perfect on Paper is about relationships of all sorts: sisters, community members, classmates, romantic relationships, and friendships. The friendship between Darcy and Brooke was really sweet, and I think a lot of teen readers will relate to Darcy as she tries to navigate her unrequited crush for Brooke. Even as feelings start to form between Darcy and Brougham, she struggles to move on from her feelings for Brooke, and has to balance their friendship with these feelings.

This YA contemporary has a funny and incredibly relatable voice. The novel was engaging, quickly paced, and kept me turning page after page. The plotline was a unique take on secret identities, love letters, and unexpected romance. Darcy’s passion for providing relationship advice was palpable, and I loved that this novel highlighted a unique hobby (seriously, Darcy lives, breathes, and eats relationship studies). There’s also a really interesting discussion on the ethics of Darcy’s locker business: Would people still pay for advice if they knew who it came from? Would knowing who they’ve poured their secrets out to change how they feel about it? What would happen if Darcy’s identity got out? I found these questions, and Darcy’s history of the locker, to be fascinating. I especially loved reading the letters and Darcy’s responses that were peppered throughout the book.

Readers who enjoyed Sophie Gonzales’s previous book, Only Mostly Devastated, will absolutely love this one. I’ll also be recommending it to fans of Becky Albertalli, Jenny Han, and Marisa Kanter, as well as folks who enjoyed the movie The Half of It. Perfect on Paper was a delightfully fun and refreshing YA rom-com that I cannot wait to see on the shelves at my library. It’s a romance that also celebrates queerness, sisterhood, and friendship in the most beautiful way–and it’s already got me counting down the days until Sophie’s next book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital review copy!

Happy reading! Ari

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