Hey, look at that! I’m writing a review! For a book! I know it’s been a while, and I’m sorry about that. Part of the problem is I’ve been reading a lot of ARCs that won’t come out for a few months, and I’d rather write the review closer to release, and part of the problem is that I’ve been revising and it’s hard for my brain to shift into reader mode when I’m in revision mode (it really messes with my ability to pleasure read when I’m so caught up in sentence length and awkward phrasing and is this chapter really necessary? and could this character’s motivation be clearer?) — and, if I’m honest, part of the problem is laziness. I’ve read some good books that I just haven’t bothered to review because I haven’t felt like it.
I know. I’m sorry. I will try to do better.
But two weeks ago, I was blindsided by a Killer Death Plague that rendered me incapable of doing anything other than lying in bed, miserable. Sometimes sleeping, sometimes just staring at the wall. I was too decrepit even to watch TV or read books. It was horrible.
That was the first week. The second was better — I could focus my brain enough to watch a show on Netflix, or process the words in a book. I absolutely could not sit in front of my computer and do anything writing-related. So I decided to put my current WIPs on guilt-free hold and plunge back into reading with what little energy I could muster, and the first book I picked up in my convalescence haze was Alison Cherry’s FOR REAL.
I’ve been looking forward to FOR REAL for a while now. Not only because Alison is an agent-mate, or because I contributed a (teeny tiny) idea for it via Twitter, and Alison actually used it in the book, although both of those were certainly factors. But mostly it’s because FOR REAL is a lighthearted book about sisters, and reality TV, and travel, and if that doesn’t sound like the most fun fictional frolic ever, I’m just really not sure what to tell you.
And friends, even weakened and fuzzied by illness as I was, I could not put this book down. Literally. I read this book in one sitting. I stayed up past my bedtime. I probably didn’t help my recovery at all. And I had no regrets.
THE PLOT (From Goodreads):
No parents. No limits. No clue what they’re in for.
Shy, cautious Claire has always been in her confident older sister’s shadow. While Miranda’s life is jam-packed with exciting people and whirlwind adventures, Claire gets her thrills vicariously by watching people live large on reality TV.
When Miranda discovers her boyfriend, Samir, cheating on her just before her college graduation, it’s Claire who comes up with the perfect plan. They’ll outshine Miranda’s fame-obsessed ex while having an amazing summer by competing on Around the World, a race around the globe for a million bucks. Revenge + sisterly bonding = awesome.
But the show has a twist, and Claire is stunned to find herself in the middle of a reality-show romance that may or may not be just for the cameras. This summer could end up being the highlight of her life… or an epic fail forever captured on film. In a world where drama is currency and manipulation is standard, how can you tell what’s for real?
Man, this book was fun.
Everything about the premise of this book appealed to me. Sisters. Revenge. Reality TV. International travel. Romantic shenanigans. It sounded like exactly the sort of breezy, light read that would leave me with happy butterflies in my tummy and a goofy smile on my face. The kind of book that’s cozy like a pair of fuzzy slippers and a glass of lemonade. And it delivered in every way.
Miranda and Claire are not a saccharine-sweet pair of sisters — think less Meg and Beth, more Jo and Amy. They’re different in their interests, looks, personalities, insecurities. They’re the way I think lots of siblings are — two people who may not have ever chosen to spend much time interacting with each other if they hadn’t been raised under the same roof. It’s not that they’re incompatible; more that they’re not inherently complementary. But incongruities aside, they share a special bond, and I felt FOR REAL did a fantastic job exploring that dichotomy — sisters who love each other and are fiercely loyal to each other, despite how little they have in common.
I loved — loved — how their relationship was the driving force of the story. Miranda’s revenge on her sleazy ex-boyfriend, Claire’s awkward attempts to woo her charming crush, and the array of bizarre challenges they were forced to complete as contestants on Around the World were highly entertaining, but all the big emotional punches hinged on what was happening between the two sisters, as did most of the big shifts in motivation and stakes. It’s no big surprise that my favorite scene in the book — and one that may have provoked a few tears — was a quiet moment between the two sisters in the midst of all the crazy set pieces swirling around them. I loved the balance between the absurdity of what the characters were forced to do and the groundedness of the relationships. A book about competing on a ridiculous reality show needs to really drive home the authenticity in its characters and emotion, and I thought FOR REAL did a masterful job of that.
That said, the Around the World premise (and its unexpected and wholly inconvenient twist) was such wacky fun. Everything from the premise of the show, to the insane challenges, to the over-the-top contestants, to the polished host, to the zany twists was simultaneously outlandish and totally plausible in the current landscape of reality television. Following the characters through each challenge was as compulsively readable as actual reality TV is watchable. Plus I loved the snippets of different countries and cultures as the characters raced from one exotic location to another, even as the characters were frustrated that they didn’t really get to experience the different cultures because they were too busy smashing pomegranates and coating each other in pudding (yes, really).
As for the romance, all I’ll say is that FOR REAL is chock-full of the kind of witty banter and squishy moments and stolen glances that make for the best kind of romantic comedy — but that it never forgets its reality show premise, or that the primary focus of the book is the two sisters. So don’t expect conventional romance tropes to come into play here — in FOR REAL, the boys are the side show, never the main attraction.
All in all, if you’re a fan of great sister stories, or reality TV, or travel — or you’re just looking for a fun, quick, un-put-down-able read that makes you chuckle and groan and roll your eyes, all while tugging at your heartstrings and making you grin like a fool — then FOR REAL is the book for you.