St Martin’s Griffin, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-250-12590-3
Contemporary Fiction, 2017
I came. And it was so unbelievably powerful, for a moment I thought I might black out. There, in Hayes Campbell’s arms, in room 1004 of the Crosby Street Hotel.
Solène Marchand is a 39-year old divorcée with a twelve-year old daughter. Hayes Campbell is twenty and carefree. Okay, you may think: that’s no so bad – at least our heroine won’t get arrested by the cops. Ah, but here’s the thing: Hayes is a member of August Moon, one of the hottest boybands of the moment, and Solène’s daughter is a big fan, especially of him. They meet when she chaperones Isabelle and her friends to a meet-the-boys session back stage, and Hayes becomes especially keen on showing her how nice his August moon is. It’s supposed to be just lunch, and then it’s supposed to be just an affair, but the next thing our heroine knows, she’s swept up in a crazy ride into a world that she has never imagined herself to be a part of.
I know, romances with rock stars and boyband members have a terrible rep in the genre, for a good reason: the whole thing often reads like puerile fanfiction featuring a fifty-year old man trapped in a young man’s body wooing some dumpy wide-eyed farm cow from Backward County. Robinne Lee has served something a little different in The Idea of You, however: sure, the romance has a “made in fanfiction” quality to it at times, but it brings on the feels like nobody’s business.
Mind you, I get into this one with a considerable degree of skepticism. August Moon is based on One Direction, and Hayes is apparently inspired by Harry Styles, whom you may recall Taylor Swift writing a song about (Style) to celebrate the demise of their love affair. I know, it’s tragic that I know these things. Anyway, I have never found any one of the One Direction brats visually appealing, so the very idea of a hero modeled after one of them initially made me go, “I need to be a 14-year old to like this one, right?”
Oh, I now have to eat my words, especially I found myself tearing up when I reach the page, right as the brats in the background are hitting the crescendo in Change My Mind, one of the very few songs by One Direction that I am not ashamed to say I love. Oh, the feels, the feels, oh they hurt and I feel glorious.
A big reason for why I adore this story is the author serving a real and relatable protagonist in Solène. Sure, she’s wealthier than most people, but her emotions are something I can certainly feel a degree of empathy for. Her exasperation with how she is often forced to handle the messier stuff of their divorce while her ex-husband just floats by, her relationship with Isabelle through all the ups and downs – these feel down to earth and human in spite of the chick-lit glam the author gives the heroine. I also love how she doesn’t fall head over heels from the get go like some star-struck twit. Instead, she tries to be sensible, but you know how things can be. When a hot guy woos her with all the nice things only a pop star can afford and set up, how can any sane woman resist? Solène gets where she is by being responsible and sensible, which means she treats her relationship with Hayes as a fling instead of some neurotic happily ever after thing. But emotions can complicate things as she and Hayes become closer over time.
As for Hayes, he has some “fifty-year old man pretending to be a young dude” moments, but on the whole, I find him pretty believable as a character. He’s the Solène of August Moon – the often sensible one, so it makes sense that he has a thing for older women who see the world like he does. At the same time, he has this naïveté about love and life typical of a twenty-year old at the top of the world, and hence, he believes in their happily ever after far more than Solène ever would. The author has Hayes deliver some lines and put on some grand displays of affection that would normally be cheesy, but here, I lap everything up, one hand pressed against my heart in delight, even as I know that things can’t stay perfect for them all the time.
Oh yes, the romance. There is a very good reason why this one is marketed as mainstream women’s fiction rather than romance. No, nobody gets last-minute cancer or is run down by a bus at the last page just because. However, as beautiful as romance may be, love alone often isn’t enough to sustain a happily ever after, not when the people involved come from two very different worlds. A happily ever after often demands compromises, even sacrifices, and sometimes, having such a fairy-tale ending takes away too much from all parties involved. So yes, this story has a mainstream women’s fiction ending, but I’m not complaining because the ending makes perfect sense. There is an honesty to it that makes the romance between Solène and Hayes feel even more precious, authentic. Yes, I tear up at the last page. Please don’t judge. Hayes is never Harry Styles to me, so that’s alright.
The one issue I have with The Idea of You is the pacing. The last few chapters are crammed with all kinds of emotional drama, to a degree that the story seems to have jumped from 0 to 10,000 in the blink of an eye. If the author had spread out the drama more evenly, instead of shoving everything into the tail end of the story, this one would have been a five-oogie read easy. I also can’t hear a One Direction song over the next few days without choking up a bit inside, but I’m still not sure whether that’s a good or bad thing.
So yes, a story about a boyband dude tearing me up all inside in a good way. Who would have thought?