Book Title: The Love Interest Author: Cale Dietrich Number of pages: 384
Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?
Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Smart concept on paper bogged down by choices in storytelling that lack world building in support of the premise
– Reads as contemporary romance with a science-fiction undertone; contemporary parts of the story were great but once the story enters the third act requiring sci-fi elements to be explored, it looses it’s propulsion
– Protagonists fit into neat check boxes and are build upon commonly used character framework and tropes
Excellent premise muddled by an ending that left so much to be desired.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Love Interest from Raincoast Books.
The Love Interest is a book about the use of tropes in storytelling.
For many sections of the book, the satire that comes alive off the page is hilariously and makes you question the ridiculousness and necessity of these tropes in every story. But even a smart concept has to deliver an ending that’s more than satisfactory to the high-concept of a plot.
The Love Interest is broken down into three acts. The first two (see: the build-up) was decent and had the hallmarks of what it promised to deliver. The third act — specifically the last 40-ish pages of the book — just went downhill really quickly. A journey is sometimes only as good as the revelations and ending that are presented. And this is where The Love Interest fell flat for me as it carried through to the other elements as I will discuss below.
The contemporary world building is not something I’m going to speak to. The social conventions are fine, the vividness of the imagery is fine, the nice/bad dynamics are fine. It is fine.
My concern begins and ends with the leniency on the necessary science-fiction and/or dystopic element to The Love Interest. To be clear: this is not a genre classification that I have seen for this book…but it should be. If it were just any default organization (like the CIA or something idk?) breeding these Love Interests to act on surveillance etc. without the inclusion of heavy technological advancement, then I can pass it off.
But no. There’s this largely unexplained Stalker robotic…thing…that acts as one fail-safe if Love Interests don’t do their love interest-y stuff. Oh, and it’s black in colour and is perfectly described as the “perfect killing machine” (because why not?). So when you tack that onto the Compound where these swoony boys grow up, question marks begin popping up as to this organization that mains an enigma to the conflict/plot. A reason is existence is given but it reads thin and unsubstantiated considering the lengths of time indicated that these Love Interests have operated. Literally decades.
There are continuity issues in how the story unfolds that elicited many stop-and-go “huh?” moments upon reading. And I don’t know if these are amended in the final version so I’ll have to assess what I witnessed.
A plot hole that forces the whole premise to sag is that each Love Interest has a “counselor” who offers an omnipresent (third-person-like) voice in their head to aid them along in winning the target. It’s by an implant that this works (which also is very ??? as to world building). BUT. The questionable thing is that Kaylee is (a) never there or (b) doesn’t say shit when Caden combats his existential crises and/or his developing relationship with Dylan. Like…why would she actively want him to fail? It takes over 254 pages for her to say something, and when she does, it reads like his regular thoughts (italicizes). From that viewpoint, we can infer that his thoughts ought to have been filtered through to Kaylee. So for the protagonist to autonomous reign despite the the continual monitoring creates a cause for concern as the conflict/villain needs to have a deeper rooted importance in the story than just a random Stalker looming about.
The pressing issue this book runs into is that, as a reader, if you wear your skeptical hat and question “why”, you might not get that much needed answer. It kind of leaves you hanging. And that, as you know, is a red flag for me in being compelled to enjoy any story. It was just a bit too gratuitous with the lack of explanation is all.
Moreover, the ease and lack of consequence that propels this story is what made a whole lot of unanswered questions.
The female love interest, Juliet, is essentially a walking Deus Ex Machina trope and while I completely understand the Special Snowflake effect of having her the way she is, something has got to be said about the immediacy of her actions as it moves the plot forward. The turnaround time for her to provide the “quick fix re: get out of jail free card” during their bleak situations is a few pages, and that is ridiculous. It’s really difficult to tell if that’s just the trope doing it’s work or not.
As the lead, Caden fits the bill as your boy-next-door-Nice-guy and thrives in his environment. Honestly, if you take all the smol good guys you know in popular YA fiction and mush them together, they would aesthetically look and have the same mental prowess as this leading lad.
It also would have been great if the Dylan’s bisexuality was explored given the abruptness with the ending (notwithstanding the epilogue) that left that allowed the romance to go from from 0-to-100 and left this void where development could have been. I get that they have small escapades from a friendship level but those dynamics are a lot more nuanced when you’re committed in a relationship.
There are also sexist, racist, and homophobic minor characters in this that do not get called out.
So I feel shitty writing this review because Cale is a wonderful guy but I owe it to be critical where possible. So despite The Love Interest’s hype within the community and it’s very clever premise, it’s not one that I can say with confidence is the most fulfilling of reads. Perhaps another 50-or-so more pages to finesse the sci-fi elements that underscores this entire story would have helped answer the why and how of the organization and how it tangibly affects and enriches the protagonists story.