What’s up, book lovers?
The world is looking particularly crappy this week, and I feel the (desperate) need to talk about something happy for a little while. So, I’m coming at you with a five-star review of one of my FAVORITE books of the year!
I read The Summer of Jordi Perez (and The Best Burger in Los Angeles) in just over 24 hours, and it was wonderful beginning to end. I’m here to share my broader thoughts on it, so here we go!
[Disclaimer: I’m trying a new format for this review than most others I’ve published here. If things feel weird, it’s probably my inability to adapt.
ALSO: there may be spoilers. Sorry!]
Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn’t expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.
Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She’s somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.’s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby’s finally in her own story?
But when Jordi’s photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?
Is this just Abby’s summer of fashion? Or will it truly be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)?
Summary from Goodreads
Oh my goodness, this book is so adorable! I have seen this book advertised as the fem/fem romance the world has been waiting for, and I have to say I’m extremely impressed with it! This YA novel is mushy gooey wonderful, and I loved everything about it. Such a cute love story; it is the romance you’ll want to pick up this summer!
What I Loved:
- This is not a coming out story
My experience with LGBTQIA+ lit is relatively limited and fairly recent, but I’ve noticed that most stories at present focus on the “coming out” story. This is a great story to tell, of course (if you haven’t seen Love, Simon yet, what are you even doing with your life?), but there are more stories about this community that can be told. Abby’s sexuality is out there from Page 1. The essential characters in the story already know her identity, so the insecure situations present in books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda have no place here.
At the same time (and I’m not speaking from direct experience here, but…), the post-coming out feels very real, as we see Abby navigate situations that go beyond that first identifying conversation. Her mom isn’t totally “okay” with Abby’s sexuality yet, and we get to see the two of them struggle through some of the conversations that would arise in a situation like this. Similarly, we see the “continuous coming out” theme, as Abby shares how she works to figure out if Jordi would, in fact, be into her. Both of these bits of the book help create a better picture of the larger LGBTQIA+ story, and you can tell Spalding is working hard to move forward this epic.
- Jordi, and the Relationship
Jordi, for me, was a totally-believable-crush character. She’s dark and mysterious, funny, and kind. It felt totally logical and natural for Abby to fall for her. (Abby’s great too, but because the book is told from her perspective, we get less of a picture of how and why Jordi fell for her.)
I also loved Jordi’s role in helping Abby recognize and discover her own beauty. It’s obvious from the moment we establish their connection that Jordi finds Abby beautiful–and she should! We also see an intimacy between the two characters that goes beyond physical attraction. It’s super simple, like most high school love stories, and yet it manages to be more than we could have asked for.
- The Friendship
I’ll be honest–when I first realized that this lesbian romance would feature a cis-het white male, I was more than a little concerned (cue flashbacks to The Kids are All Right). However, Jax showed up and surprised me on almost every page!
The connection between Abby and Jax shows, firmly, that “boys and girls can be friends” without one falling for the other. I LOVE that. Jax never questions Abby’s interest in girls; instead, he goes to her for advice on how to talk to them himself. And he never falls for Abby, even if he “likes” her as a friend. Also, there is NO RANDOM CHEAT-WITH-A-GUY SCENE, THANK YOU SO MUCH! Jordi and Jax get along famously when they finally meet, as two people who share a person should.
I also love that Jax connects with Abby on food. Like, what a cool and unique idea!
Let’s just sum it up: I went into this story expecting to focus all my love and energies on the girls, but Jax kinda stole my friendship heart, all the way.
- The Body Positivity
I want to start off by saying I feel a little awkward talking about this subject. While I have had my share of body image issues, I don’t have to work hard at keeping a slim figure. I know this topic is far more complex for other individuals, and I don’t want my interpretation of this story to misinterpret or violate others’ impressions or takes on it. So, if I’m totally off in my perspective, I apologize profusely–I did not mean to offend anyone.
That being said, I think this book does a very good job of addressing the topic of body positivity, particularly as Spalding creates a narrative displaying Abby’s own progress toward greater self-acceptance. Like her sexuality, Abby seems to be fairly confident in her size, but we can see that some of that confidence is a facade. Her disinterest in having her picture taken or posted online shows some of this struggle, as do her later reactions to Jordi’s photography show. Furthermore, her relationship with her mother complicates the issue, highlighting how one’s self-acceptance can often feel attacked by other individuals. By the end of the book, we’ve seen Abby make huge leaps toward appreciating and loving herself even more. Spalding also seems to be demonstrating that self-acceptance is an ongoing battle, which should be a comfort to those who read this and don’t feel quite like Abby in the end.
I also just want to throw out a couple other things: when Abby assumes Jax has asked her to go eat burgers because of her size, he immediately corrects her–he just wants to get to know her better (and to ask about girls). That’s awesome. Also, Abby is an extremely active person. She does not have her license and she walks everywhere. While this plot piece seems to only really help shape Abby’s fear of driving, I think it also indirectly speaks to the topic of body positivity.
- The Simplicity
This is not high literature. It’s not meant to be. It’s pretty fluffy. But it’s good, inclusive fluff with the ability to make you think. It’s still a decent coming-of-age story with a commentary on what it’s like to start growing up.
Things I didn’t love (even though there wasn’t anything I didn’t like)
- Abby’s Voice
Abby is a very ramble-y person by nature, which comes through in her dialogue, as well as her inner narrative thoughts. This sort of stream-of-consciousness was a little difficult to wade through at times. I found myself skimming over entire paragraphs because I got the gist from the first few words. I get why Spalding wrote like this, but I felt it hindered Abby’s overall voice a little bit.
Okay, I know, every good book needs a villain. But I hate when it’s Mother. I have an incredible relationship with my own mom (and I know how blessed I am to have that), so I have a really hard time relating to books like this when Mom turns out to be the Bad Guy. Norah is an easy character to hate, but I’m honestly unsure if I don’t like her because she’s such a good antagonist, or because her character could have been constructed better.
- The Other Friendship
We avoided a lot of lesbian romance cliches in this book, but the one with the Jealous Best Friend stuck around… Why does Maliah have to have a problem with Jordi, so readily and so thoroughly? I did not love the treatment of the love interest by the best friend at all; the double standard Maliah had between her relationship and Abby’s has been done so many times before, and it made the friendship between Abby and Maliah feel superficial. Maliah comes across as very selfish throughout the book, and I didn’t find the ending “makeup” between Abby and her to be very convincing. Overall, while I understand Maliah’s purpose in the book (much like Mom’s), I feel she was a weak spot in the writing.
Lots of typos. Do better, Sky Pony.
- The Ending
I liked the plot of the ending, but the writing and timeline felt a little…rushed. I think we could have slowed down a little to appreciate the resolutions, rather than racing toward the finish (especially since the book is only 274 short pages to begin with).
Overall, I found this book to be an excellent story with great leading characters. I loved loved LOVED the romance–so adorable and sweet. There was an excellent attempt made at body positivity, a great representation of a male/female friendship, and a believable narrative toward self-acceptance. It’s the perfect summer “fluff” romance, but you don’t want to miss the important message it tells. This is a great YA tale of happily ever after.