In this rom-com about rom-coms, in the spirit of Kasie West and Jenn Bennett, a hopeless romantic teen attempts to secure a happily-ever-after moment with her forever crush, but finds herself reluctantly drawn to the boy next door.
Perpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.
The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Pranks involving frogs and decapitated lawn gnomes do not a potential boyfriend make. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.
But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, she’s shocked to discover that she likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.
Title: Better Than the Movies
Author: Lynn Painter
Publication Date: May 4, 2021
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Okay. Imagine how excited I was to read this book and I still gave it 5 stars. It was that good! It combined some of my favorite romance tropes while also being self-aware of said romance tropes. I loved every minute of it!
Liz is our main character and I loved Liz because she reminded me so much of myself. She loves rom-com movies and wants so badly to live one out in her real life. When her childhood crush moves back into town and instantly becomes besties with her archnemesis, what can she do other than strike a deal with said nemesis? We get to see a mild fake dating trope, and enemies-to-lovers trope, plus lots of other fun rom-com bits.
Something I loved so much about this book was that it constantly referenced popular rom-com movies. Each chapter began with a quote from a rom-com movie. Liz was always making playlists for each situation she was in (or wanted to be in) as if she was in a movie. Plus, there is just a lot of talk about popular rom-com movies. It was like a rom-com in a rom-com.
But moving on to the lovely relationships we get to see in this book. First, let me mention Wes. Wes is the boy next door and nemesis to our sweet Liz. He always played pranks on her growing up and still kinda messed with her in high school. When Liz has to reluctantly work with him to try to win the heart of her crush, we get a lot of good banter. I love banter between two characters who supposedly hate each other. Also, it was so great to get to know Wes as Liz got to know him for the guy he actually was instead of the kid she grew up knowing.
Next, we have Liz’s stepmom, Helena. Helena is such an awesome character in and of herself, but she becomes especially cool as we get to know her through Liz. Liz is feeling the loss of her mother during her senior year of high school so we get to take this trip with her as she has to confront her grief and learn to let others in. Painter did a brilliant job of adding in this complexity to Liz and her character while working with the other complexity that is Helena and her growing relationship with Liz. I won’t say too much more about these two, but know it was a great development.
**SOME SPOILERS COMING**
Lastly (on the character front), I’ll just briefly mention Michael and Laney. I love how Michael was genuinely a good guy. Sometimes in rom-coms, the writers must find a way for the readers/watchers to not want the main girl/guy to want to be with the girl/guy that we “thought” would be the right person. In this case, Michael. Michael was the childhood crush, but not the guy Liz was supposed to be with. In many rom-coms, writers will write this character to be a “bad person” or to do something totally wrong so that way we, as the reader/watcher, no longer want our main character to end up with this person. However, Painter didn’t do this. She simply made us fall in love with Wes and was able to leave Michael alone. He is genuinely a good guy, just not the right guy for Liz. I love that.
And she did something similar with Laney. Liz hates Laney throughout the whole book, but realizes in the end, that Laney is actually a good person. I love the role that Laney played in this book and I’m happy with how her character turned out.
And now, finally, the romance! It was a slow burn! Y’all know I’m a sucker for a slow burn and this was pretty much a slow burn through and through. There were some other tropes thrown in there, as I mentioned above, but my favorite is always the slow burn. It builds up so much tension that when it all must finally be released, the result is that much more satisfying.
Overall, this is a must-read for all (but especially rom-com lovers). Should we count how many times I said “rom-com” in this review? I can’t wait to read the upcoming books from Painter. She is one author to keep your eye on!
Disclaimer: I voluntarily read and reviewed a gifted and advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.