Both of these YA novels by Robin Constantine feature some of the same characters, and I read them one right after the other, so I’m just going to review them together, The Promise of Amazing first.
Wren Caswell is an academically and socially average girl getting over a breakup and working at her parents’ medieval-times-type restaurant. Grayson Barrett was a star athlete and top of his class—until he got kicked out of his prep school for pimping term papers. Their paths cross one night when Wren saves Grayson from choking at a wedding, and they can’t seem to stay away from each other since. But will both their pasts (and the threat of their futures) let them be who they want to be?
This book was one of the best contemporary YA books I’ve read in a while. Despite being average in every way, Wren is actually an interesting and complex character, facing the choice of continuing to be the good, quiet girl who goes to an average college, or choosing her own path. She’s spunky and down-to-earth, acting like an actual real teenager, instead of the you’ll-never-understand-me types in most of YA that exist only because the author doesn’t actually remember anything about her teenage years except being misunderstood.
Grayson is also complex and interesting, with school problems, family problems, and friends who are all also unique and interesting. He acts like the player he’s described as, but the reader also sees him trying to be a better person. They’re all real. It’s refreshing.
But the absolute best part of this book was Luke Dobson. For so many reason. First, the obvious: he’s hot and smart and (I’m sad to say) exactly my type. It was so incredibly great to see one of the smartest characters in the book acting, you know, normal. Not like smart was the only thing that defined them. And he always seemed like he knew what he was doing. An interesting trait in a YA character to be sure. (Granted, he didn’t exactly seem like he was in high school. But I don’t even care.)
The second half of him being the best part, though, was the fact that it was so incredibly nice to have an antagonist in a YA book. To have a real conflict, one that’s not just parents splitting up or a love triangle. There were actually things happening in this book. Characters going head to head over things that weren’t a girl or emotional issues. Mysteries that weren’t immediately predictable. It was fantastic.
I just want a spin-off story about Luke going to college. Can that happen, please? Pretty pretty please?
Plot: 9/10 I actually didn’t know what was going to happen, and it kept me interested from beginning to end.
Writing: 8/10 The prose was good, the dialogue was witty, and it flowed well. The switching perspectives thing actually worked.
Characters: 8/10 The whole “girl is average” thing is overdone in YA, but at least Wren wasn’t weirdly good at English and nothing else. But every character was unique and full, and that’s pretty amazing.
Interest: 7/10 I don’t know if I would read it again, now that I know what happened. But it was definitely interesting as I read it.
The Secrets of Attraction follows Wren’s best friend and is a companion novel to the first.
Madison Pryce is getting ready for a summer art program, saving up and getting her portfolio together, when a visit from a family friend turns her life upside down. Jesse McMann is reeling from a breakup caused when one of his best friends and bandmates stole his girlfriend. Madison and Jesse meet at the coffee shop where Jesse works, and when Grayson auditions for Jesse’s band, well, it’s just perfect. But Madison has a boyfriend. And is Jesse actually ready to move on?
I don’t know why Madison was chosen for the spin-off novel. She was honestly my least favorite in The Promise of Amazing. This book wasn’t bad; it was, in fact, better than most YA, but it was nowhere near as good as the first.
This novel circles back around to the parents-as-a-problem and love-triangle tropes, which was a bit disappointing. Madison was meh as far as protagonists go; it’s possible that I just had nothing in common with her so she wasn’t memorable to me.
Jesse was better, but I have very little patience for people who don’t move forward with their lives. And he was very much not doing that. But he was sweet, thoughtful, funny, and he can make coffee, so points for dream guy there. Plus, of course, he was in a rock band and he wrote songs, so tally that up on the typical teenage fantasy score.
And both of them had their own arcs, so yay character development.
The side characters were a running highlight throughout both books. Jazz is adorable and I love her. Smart, funny, and obsessed with 80s movies? Yeah, there’s a reason I loved her. Some of the other side characters from the first novel showed up: Grayson’s old bandmates made an appearance, and of course a few of the girls’ classmates, but for the most part there were new side characters. Tanner was wonderful. But I still want a spin-off about Luke. (Like, a lot.)
If this had been a standalone novel, I probably would have like it a lot more. But in comparison with The Promise of Amazing, it just didn’t quite make it.
Plot: 4/10 Parents and love triangles and angst… meh.
Writing: 7/10 The switching perspectives thing worked again, but I didn’t love it as much as the first. It wasn’t as memorable.
Characters: 7/10 Jesse was cute. Jazz, Grayson, and Tanner were great. The yoga instructor, Leif, was fun. Even the parents were good characters. It was just Madison I didn’t like. Or Zach. He was kind of a throwaway character. I forgot he was in it for a minute.
Interest: 5/10 It was pretty typically YA, which was a letdown after The Promise of Amazing.