Conditional Recommendation: Sixteen-year-old Charlotte “Charlie” is a sporty tomboy growing up in a household of boys when a new job and a possible romance pushes her out of her comfort zone and into new ways of being a young woman.
Genre: Contemporary Romance
This is a sweet best-friend-love and coming-of-age story. Delightful. Refreshing. Funny. Emotional. The closeness of family and the sibling bond between Charlotte “Charlie” and her older brothers is so endearing and enjoyable. I loved the simplicity of this book. It’s straightforward storytelling—not overly romantic or contemplative—which fits the point of view of a tomboy who’s figuring out the bumpy road of growing into different aspects of womanhood.
For sixteen-year-old Charlotte Reynolds, aka Charlie, being raised by a single dad and three older brothers has its perks. She can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows—including her longtime neighbor and honorary fourth brother, Braden. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn’t know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at a chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world of makeup, lacy skirts, and BeDazzlers. Even stranger, she’s spending time with a boy who has never seen her tear it up in a pickup game. To cope with the stress of faking her way through this new reality, Charlie seeks late-night refuge in her backyard, talking our her problems with Braden by the fence that separates them. But their Fence Chats can’t solve Charlie’s biggest problem: she’s falling for Braden. Hard. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.
I adore coming-of-age stories because growing up is difficult, multi-faceted, and everyone goes through it (I mean, hopefully!) and has a different experience; however, in books the end result is almost always a better person. Charlie is no exception and I love her process of growing up. As a tomboy myself, I can affirm that learning to be comfortable in your female body, exploring make up, clothing, and how you present yourself are all part of the process. It’s so fun to watch Charlie go through it, especially with a household of brothers who are ready to tease. She learns to accept help and get out of her comfort zone.
Family is such a strong theme in this book and it shines. The family suffered the tragic loss of their wife and mother when Charlie was young. She feels the hole most because as the only girl in a house of boys there’s definitely a lack of a woman’s influence and as the youngest she has the fewest memories of her mom. Next door, Braden has a unstable home life with an alcoholic dad that terrorizes him and his mom. He finds refuge with the Reynolds family and they really do consider him family.
This is a very tame best-friend-turned-boyfriend romance. In my opinion, one of the best kinds of love stories is when attraction develops through knowledge and friendship. The physical attraction is not ignored but also not overly emphasized, which I appreciate. I think it’s unrealistic when it’s not included and there’s a balance to be struck because when it’s the only magnetic factor between the love interests then a book typically becomes sexualized and unrealistic on the other end of the spectrum. This book strikes a great balance. There’s kissing and hand holding but nothing more than that. And I must say, their friendship is lovely and sincere—not a means to an end—and good friendships in books are so refreshing to read. Something I particularly love is that this guy advocates for her to never be less than in order for anyone, much less a guy, to like her.
Early in the book, we learn that Charlie frequently suffers from nightmares and one time she looks up the meaning of her dreams. She brushes it off as lunacy, doesn’t take it seriously, and gets on with her life. It was only passing curiosity. There’s one mention of sex in casual conversation between a group of girls. An acquaintance whom we don’t see again after this encounter says about boys, “I swear all they think about is food and sex.” Charlie immediately contests the comment saying she has three brothers and they actually do have other thoughts. This book does a great job of encouraging a mindset that doesn’t view young men or young women only through the lens of sex. Spoiler warning: Suicide caused by depression is indicated and implied, but not described in detail.
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