St Martin’s Press, $6.50, ISBN 0-312-98303-4
Contemporary Romance, 2003
Having read Reon Laudat’s latest romantic comedy What a Girl Wants, I’m now convinced that the author can really pull off even the most insipid plots on the strength of her characters’ really good interactions with each other. Not that this excuses the insipid plot thing, of course, but I can’t deny that if heroine Ava Daniels and hero Harper Reynolds aren’t so good at that banter and repartee thing, this one would have been a derivative and tiresome story. But they are, so this book is so fun and bouncy as a result.
Harper and Ava go way back, thanks to their relationship with Harper’s Aunt Flossie. Ava, being a teenager, has always had a crush on Harper, but nothing actually happens until one night when Harper was rejected by MIT and lost his girlfriend at the same time, and Ava offered herself for his TLC. At the last moment, he decided that Ava deserved better than a fling in a dirty basement and withdrew (not that he actually withdrew since there wasn’t any… uh, never mind). Ava saw this as a rejection from Harper and their friendship cooled to near freezing point ever since, until Harper got involved with a TV celeb and then all but vanished when the relationship fell apart.
Today, Aunt Flossie’s passed away but she doesn’t hesitate to plague the young ones one last time by leaving her house to both Harper and Ava. Ava is stuck in a career limbo typical of many people her age: she’s looking for a nice job that will help her take care of herself and do something for her family, but that job remains elusive. Harper on the other hand tries to drown his vague feelings of inadequacy by being a humanitarian and volunteering in third world countries. The last explains how he is unable to learn of Aunt Flossie’s funeral until too late. Ava assumes that he’s away cavorting with some hussy elsewhere, he doesn’t care, and she will give him a hard time about that when he comes back.
The plot, reminiscent of a typical series novel brain gas, is not without its share of misunderstandings. But these misunderstandings never bleed into toxic unreadability because they never truly affect the couple. In short, the plot doesn’t actually depend on these two prolonging the misunderstandings. While I do sometimes wonder why Harper continues to let Ava think wrongly of him for so long, these misunderstandings don’t matter because the real plot here is Harper and Ava working things out. Am I making sense here? I am trying to say that these two people get along just fine, barring one or two stand-out contrived scenes, and their growing to like each other even more despite the underlying misassumptions are fun to read. The real conflict here is they figuring out how to get the other to sell his or her share of the place (she wants to move her family out of the crime-infested neighborhood to this nice big house while he’s all about turning the house into some center that will improve the current neighborhood) before realizing in a really cute scene that somehow they don’t want each other to leave after all.
A little emotional baggage to balance the comedy comes from Ava’s need to see her family’s standard of living rise above the marginal level and Harper dealing with his own insecurities. There is nothing too heavy here, but there is enough.
I’m not too fond of the matchmaking secondary characters (the neighbors and all) because they are a little too obvious. The plot could have been better too. Still, all in all, I really enjoy following Harper and Ava’s falling in love. Ms Laudat has a nice knack for writing romantic and snappy exchanges as well as quaint and amusing scenes. Not everyone can write a decent romantic comedy that doesn’t rely on heroines behaving stupid or secondary characters acting abrasive, but Ms Laudat seems to have no problems excelling in that area. I guess this is a roundabout way of me saying that Ms Laudat is doing good, but really, she has to tighten that plotting of hers a little.