"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
This book is like a lesson in not judging a book by its author. I had no idea who Paula Stokes was until I'd read another review (mind you, after I'd read The Art of Lainey), and I was a little surprised. My experience with her previous work? Eh. My experience with this? Wonderful. How great to have had an open experience.
1. (+) Lainey, the protagonist - I've seen some reviews talk about how it was hard to relate to Lainey because she was shallow and superficial at first, but she honestly felt 100% realistic to her age. And to me, it was like remembering again what high school was like. She's funny, smart, a great athlete. She's obviously competitive, and even if her best friend is the one who comes up with the Art of War strategy, Lainey still is a bit of a strategist. She's honest. She undergoes a lot of growth in this novel as she learns to see people for who they are and wonders what has happened to her -- whether having a boyfriend meant that she'd lost sight of some of her own interests. Fantastic voice from Lainey and wonderful character growth.
2. (+) Setting - Between Hazel Forest University and Miss Creant's House of Torture (and Pancakes) and Lainey's father's coffee shop, Denali, and the various areas of St. Paul and the Cardinals stadium and a reality show in Chicago (Flyboys) and Happy Cheetah (another television show) -- well it's obvious that Paula Stokes planned out her St. Louis setting and world well and used it to her best advantage to show off her characters's personalities and hobbies.
3. (+) Romance - Such an adorable romance! While it's true that Micah and Lainey have little in common, they work so well together and Micah's both sweet and sometimes a harsh with her -- on accident and on purpose (helps further her character development). He says a few things that sting Lainey, but that worked well with the romance; he didn't know that he'd hurt her, it's all a process of them getting to know each other. That makes him realistic as opposed to the ideal romantic interest. He's sweet with her and has a bit of a tortured past/hard time regarding some familial issues. That and the back story with his ex does a good job of rounding out his character. He's wonderful with his little sister too (a great all around portrayal of family in this novel). He and Lainey have great chemistry and their banter made this book a delight to read.
4. (+) Characters - During one of the conversations between Lainey and Micah, Micah basically says that most people are contradictions. This book does a great job of showing this among all of the characters. On one level, they seem almost stereotypical. Most of the people Lainey talks to about Jason, her ex, say that he seems like a douche. He's got a bit of that (a bit of a frat boy-ish thing, soccer player who hosts parties with kegs and dumps Lainey at her parent's coffee shop), but you see some of his sweeter side with Lainey (the soccer games, all the other nice moments she mentions). You see that he's a caring brother to Kendal, who seems like the mean, popular girl but who's also going through a rough time. The workers at Denali don't look like they'd work at a coffee shop, according to Lainey, and intimidate her father but are wonderful workers. And so the list goes on, and the characters were just as fun to follow as the romance.
5. (+) Plot - Can't say that I was entirely hooked by the Art of War excerpts -- I tended to skip them or moved onto the parts that related to the characters alone -- and I can't say that I wasn't frustrated sometimes with Lainey, because I wondered how she didn't see things sooner... But we all judge characters more harshly than ourselves and this was another realistic, wonderfully done plot. The winning-back-exes plot turned into something more serious but still fun at a great pace, allowing for deeper feelings to form between Lainey and Micah and allowing Lainey to learn more about herself. Loved it.
6. (+) Female Friendship - The friendship between Lainey and Bianca reminded me all over again why I've been best friends with my high school best friend for over ten years. This is the sort of YA female friendship that you want to see depicted over and over again. Bianca clearly has her own life outside of Lainey's - she's not just there as a sounding board for her friend and feels like she has her own story to tell, should the author ever write a novella for her - and Bianca's jealousy/dislike of Lainey's other friend, Kendall (who most people in this book seem to dislike), adds a realistic layer to their friendship. Lainey wondering whether she's been selfish given how much she needs Bianca and talks to her about her issues also adds a realistic layer. It's great to see them both supporting each other through the book and let them have their own story lines.
7. (+) Sports & Colleges & Other Things - It's not often you see a positive portrayal of sports in YA. I was a basketball player. It tires me to see portrayal of sports as this chore. Not here! Lainey is excellent at soccer and we get to see her in action a couple of times. The girls also discuss colleges and soccer and their different playing styles/abilities and their families (all adding to that realistic edge as mentioned above). The Art of Lainey is cute and fluffy but the book also has a nice serious side that complements the humor well.
8. (+) Writing - HarperTeen or Disney Hyperion - good publishers for this one. I've noticed those imprints tend to have really distinct voices for the narratives (Rachel Hawkins, Kiersten White, etc.), and that is the same here. Check an excerpt if you're remotely interested in the book. Paula Stokes's writing is easy to read and full of humor and a sort of pep that is refreshing to read.
9. (+/-) Pacing - I'd say that one of the only eh things for me was that the book took a bit to start. Which is understandable. Lainey's boyfriend breaks up with her. She needs to mourn a little before she hatches her plot to win him back. So it was a bit slow for me but definitely not without reason.
10. (+) The Cover - They probably could have done a better job with the cover, but it's cute and fun like the book and I like the hint of her dad's store and whatever shirt/dress she's got on.
The Art of Lainey was adorable & loads of fun. Cute and fluffy and recommended for Kasie West, Stephanie Perkins, and (at least from what I've read about her work) Liz Czukas fans. Sarah Dessen books have a slightly more serious voice to them or at least more focus on the character growth of the MC / self-discovery, I think, though fans of her work (specifically, The Truth about Forever, since that romance has a similar ex vs. new guy sort of feel to it) may also enjoy this book.