Thursday, September 15, 2016

Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Title: Trade Me (Cyclone #1)
Author: Courtney Milan
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication date:  January 19, 2015
Rating: ★★★★

Summary (via Goodreads):

Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Technology. But when he makes an off-hand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart...but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

I have NO appropriate words to describe how much I loved this book, even with its lackluster resolution. Every time I think about Blake and/or Tina, I just want to puke in enthusiasm.

I mean, an Asian female MC in a new adult book?

An Asian female MC in a new adult book who is actually bright, and driven, and sex-positive, and proud of her family, and not fetishized, and compassionate, and socially aware? A character that I can actually relate to??!?

Pinch me. I must be dreaming.

Tina Chen is the main reason I picked up this book. I needed to read a new adult novel that was not all about white people. And you know what? She struck a deep chord with me.

I always, always love a female MC who shies away from love and commitment. I love a girl who thinks relationships are dangerous, who believes in protecting herself (and her family) first. I AM THAT GIRL. And Tina is that girl. She has to grapple with safety and risk, and contend with her interest in the perfect-by-traditional-Western-standards Blake Reynolds.

Blake is fascinating. He's imperfect and flawed in ways that matter. Despite his ignorance and privileged upbringing, he respects people. He makes mistakes but he learns and tries to do better – he is everything I wish the people of the Internet would be. (Ahem.)

Tina and Blake are compelling on their own, but when they're together, it's impossible to drag your eyes away. Their dynamic is so interesting – the back and forth, give and take. They make each other feel understood. They make each other feel good. They call it like it is. They speak openly. They don't play games. It's so goddamn refreshing to see two intelligent adults acting like intelligent adults in a relationship. How annoying is it when the key conflict in a story could be resolved by a couple actually communicating with each other? There's none of that nonsense here. The conflicts and challenges they face actually matter; they're complicated. There's no easy way out.

Blake is a complex person with a complex relationship with his father; for better or for worse, it colors his life and the decisions he makes, and it is because of this that the "issues" in this book don't feel like "issues." The problems and solutions, as Blake says, are "all tangled up, knitted together so firmly that you can't excise the problem without blowing the solution to bits." Courtney Milan has certainly knitted together a story where that's the case, though I do wish the "solution" had been somewhat less anti-climactic. The end came together rather quickly and rather too conveniently – before I knew it, the story was over. I wish we had gotten to see a little more romance between Tina and Blake. Softer, slower moments. A little more lingering instead of a constant rush forward.

Maybe because of the way it was written – with scenes that propelled the story forward – I read this book in 5 hours. I devoured it. And on my commute to work this morning, I started reading it again. To savor it. To revisit and reconsider my thoughts on relationships. To bask in the existence of a well-written Chinese female character. A well-written Chinese female character, written well by a non-Chinese author. (I mean, whaaaa???? Side-eye emoji. Side-eye emoji. Side-eye emoji.)

This is the part where I don't really know what else to say. Trade Me made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me feel like I was learning something. It was a really smart book. It made me feel seen. It made me have some degree of faith in humanity. (No joke.)

Read this book if you're tired of never seeing yourself in books.
Read this book if you want to see relationships based on mutual respect.
Read this book if you like your parents.
Read this book if you don't.

Read this book if you think stories should mean something. Because this one does.

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