Book Review: Alex, Approximately

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Expert evader Bailey Rydell just moved across the country to live with her father in California. Her only consolation is her online best friend and fellow film buff, Alex, who not only serves as emotional support, but happens to live in the same coastal town she just moved to. Scared that he’s not all he seems online, she sets out to find him before telling him she’s there, instead meeting Porter Roth, a.k.a. her archnemesis. Porter works at the museum where she got a summer job, and makes her life miserable. He mocks her, argues with her… and makes her completely unable to concentrate on anything else. But as the summer unfolds, Bailey has to decide whether to keep chasing a potential online romance or to go with the one that’s right in front of her, in all his sarcastic, scarred glory. But Porter has a secret of his own: He’s Alex… approximately.

I picked this book by Jenn Bennett up because I saw it in the bookstore and thought the cover was gorgeous. And what could be bad about a YA You’ve Got Mail retelling? Little did I know, the cover had pretty much nothing to do with the actual story. Which, I’m actually kind of happy about. I didn’t need another preppy girl on the beach. What I got was an awkward girl with vintage style working in what sounds like the coolest museum ever. Definitely okay with that.

This book gave me a lot of Twilight vibes, weirdly enough. (And not in a bad way, mind you, I actually liked that book. And I’m sure you did, too, at one point.) Girl moves to the West Coast to live with her dad after her mom gets remarried, and isn’t sure how she feels about it. Dad gets girl old restored vehicle she thinks is insane at first before she decides she loves it. Cop as parent, warning her away from boy. Falls in love with the aloof boy all the girls have a crush on. He miraculously falls for her, too. (Okay, okay, this is common of a lot of YA.) Girl is awkward, quiet, and habitually avoids conflict. Boys flock to her anyway. Boy’s family is not approving at first but warms up to girl. Etc. This wasn’t really here nor there for me, review-wise, I just thought it was interesting how many parallels there were.

To be honest, Bailey wasn’t my favorite. She always seemed just one step away from believable, like her words and actions and descriptions never quite matched up. It was almost like watching a television that doesn’t quite have the picture and audio synced. She dresses boldly and acts like a doormat; she cares about fashion but doesn’t notice her mismatched shoes. It was never anything major, and I got used to it about halfway through the book (probably when the self-descriptions stopped), but something about her just didn’t sit right with me. It could have been intentional, to show her bad coping mechanisms, but if so, it was still a little off balance.

Porter, on the other hand, was perfect. Sarcastic and quick with a knack for pushing people to the edge just to see if they’ll push back—he’s already my type. Add to that the fact that he’s thoughtful (he took a week to plan a perfect date for Bailey), he’s brave (he freaking attacked a shark), and he’s a dedicated and hard worker (he works two jobs, one for free to keep his family afloat, and does both well)… I just. He’s perfect. His family is perfect. Where can I find one?

The absolute best part of this book, however, was the setting. Bailey’s summer job is in a museum built in a mansion built into a cave, which, architecture nerd here, is really cool. Not to mention the museum is full of hidden doors, labyrinthine rooms, kitschy exhibits, and a freaking pirate ship. I want to go. I want to own it. I want to live there. Bennett does great things with the setting, from the museum to the boardwalk to the bees to even the food truck, and it was almost as if the setting was a character in itself. I loved it.

The quotes as chapter headings was cool, though I expected more from older movies rather than modern ones. I definitely didn’t mind the newer quotes, especially since they tied so perfectly into the chapters. Overall, it was a super cute summer read, and I’m excited to check out Bennett’s other books.

Plot: ?/10 I don’t really know how to rate this, since it was a pretty faithful retelling, and the book revolved around the reader knowing the plot ahead of time and waiting for the characters to figure it out. The drug addict and surfing stories were a nice touch. A well-done retelling, to be sure.

Writing: 7/10 The prose was good and the chatroom asides were surprisingly not annoying. But Bailey’s lack of synchronicity was I think more of a writing thing than a character thing.

Characters: 8/10 Bailey I could take or leave, but Porter and his family were perfect, as were Sergeant Mendoza and even Davy. Grace was… odd. She wasn’t quite in it enough to be a real person, but she was a successful plot device.

Interest: 6/10 I didn’t really like You’ve Got Mail, but this was cute enough to make up for it. I’m not sure how I feel about knowing what’s happening and waiting for the characters to get there, but it was definitely a unique perspective.

Overall: 7/10

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3 comments

  1. I read this a while back and loved it!! I do agree with some of your points (like Bailey not quite adding up), but I adore Jenn Bennett’s writing all together. I definitely recommend reading The Anatomical Shape of a Heart (also Bennett). It’s fun and quirky and amazing like Alex Approximately, and even better (in my opinion)!

    1. Thank you! The Anatomical Shape of a Heart is actually next on my list, after I get through this batch of library books. I’m even more excited for it now!

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