Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

I was a bit worried going into this book given the experience I had with a previous book I’d read from Jenn Bennett. It wasn’t that that book, Serious Moonlight, was bad per se, but it also wasn’t great. However, with Alex, Approximately, I had a much better experience and it felt like all of the things that bothered me about that other book was fixed with this book, which is odd since this was released a few years ago. Nonetheless, I found myself enjoying the book more and more as I got deeper into it.

To start with what I didn’t like, just to get it out of the way, I will say that Bennett’s “flitting” writing style that I’d found in her other book was definitely found again in this book but it wasn’t that prominent. That being said, I do think that the writing style is the weakest part about the book. For some reason, Bennett writes as if under the assumption that her readers have the smallest attention span and can’t really focus on a scene for too long in fear that the reader will get bored or doesn’t have the brain capacity to absorb the material, which is odd because YA contemporary is the easiest thing to consume. While it does make for relatively good pacing, not spending too much time on irrelevant scenes, it can also backfire because we don’t get a lot of time or development on the important character developing scenes, if that makes sense. And for me, personally, that was evident in the book’s final chapter where Bailey finally discovered who Alex is and it felt like everything was quickly put together and there wasn’t as much time for Bailey to process it. I will say that if this was something I saw on the screen I’d understand it completely and it’d translate perfectly, but for a book I think it just needed a bit more. Just a bit more to really flesh it all out. But really, all things considered it wasn’t too bad but there was room for improvement. Sadly, that didn’t quite get improved in her future works but whatever.

My other complaint is in regards to the synopsis where it’s revealed from the get go that Alex ends up being Porter, the boy that Bailey immediately butts heads with when arriving in California. It personally bugged me to know this before even going into the book because part of me felt like the ending was already spoiled by the synopsis and it’s like there was no point into reading the book. I think maybe if this book was written in dual POVs then that wouldn’t quite matter as much, but it was written in a single first person POV so it was a bit jarring as a reader to know the ending but the protagonist is in the dark the whole time. But in discussing this with my buddy readers, it’s possible that by putting this tidbit about Alex’s identity was more of a smart intentional thing to do in order for the story to avoid being predictable. Because, if you think about it, having Bailey’s pen pal “soulmate” end up being the boy she initially hated but developed feelings for does sound rather predictable and it might’ve lessened the book’s quality. So on one hand it bugs me, but on the other hand it’s a good way to avoid predictability.

Now, onto what I liked, I really enjoyed Bailey’s character and found her to be incredibly relatable. A lot of the times I found myself going “hey, I’m in this book and I don’t like it.” A big defining trait about Bailey’s character is that she avoids things, whether it be confrontation or interaction with other people, and this book focused on her growing beyond that and to become someone who confronts things, whether it be her fears or even herself. I feel like it was a good way to express anxiety in a way (that’s not what Bennett was going for but my own thematic meaning) and to show that a person can find triumph and growth in little things every day. Bailey’s job helped with that, as did her relationship with Porter, and I definitely enjoyed watching her grow over the course of the book. I found Porter, on the other hand, to kind of be a character you had to get used to but once you did you really end up liking him. I liked how layered Bennett made him, how he comes off as this snarky surfer type but is actually incredibly nerdy and passionate about science and weather, and while Bailey’s father initially thought his influence would be bad on Bailey, he ended up being a great influence, teaching her to be braver and how to open up to people she cares about. He ended up being a lot more vulnerable than you’d expect him to be and that’s what made him very interesting to me and fun to read about.

Honestly, you can’t really go wrong with the enemies to lovers trope and while this was a bit of the toned down YA version of the trope, it was still done quite nicely. Bailey and Porter had chemistry almost immediately, him always capable of getting a rise out of her and constantly drawing him to her, and the transition from hating each other to mere tolerance to actually liking one another felt like an organic one and always felt like the right puzzle pieces clicking together. There was also a really nice conversation about Bailey slut shaming Porter and I think that was a good tidbit in this book. But most of all, Bailey and Porter really, truly felt like teenagers and the type of relationship you’d expect out of 17-18 year olds, and I think that’s what made it so strong in the end. It also felt like the classic rom-com couple we all know and love and if that doesn’t sell it to you then I don’t know what to say.

I was worried about not liking this book but I’m so glad to be wrong. While I didn’t quite get all of the film references with the characters, I did understand the chapter reference quotes which just added to the book’s entertainment value, giving everyone at least one thing to relate to. This might be the most age appropriate YA contemporary I’ve read in a while and though I have complaints here and there, overall it was a great experience. And hey, if I can finish a book in a day because I literally don’t want to put it down, then it must’ve done something right.

Also, I’m not saying this was the blueprint for Outer Banks on Netflix but you can’t really convince me otherwise. If you know, you know.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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Hardcover, 391 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Simon Pulse

Book Synopsis

Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Goodreads | Indigo | Amazon

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