Reading/listening to What’s Not to Love, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early days of the Sam and Diane romance on Cheers. One scene, in particular, kept standing out, when during an argument that ends up with Sam and Diane smacking each other, Sam points out that he didn’t hit Diane as hard as he wanted to. It’s a dark moment for the show, one that indicates just how opposite these two romantic partners really are.
Of course, if you’ve watched Cheers (and if you haven’t, why are you still reading this?!? Get to streaming it immediately!), you know that Sam and Diane were on-again, off-again for several more seasons before she left.
I bring up that moment because it feels like the kind of moment you can’t really come back from — and there’s one like it in the middle of What’s Not to Love. Ethan and Allison have been rivals for all four years of high school, competing against each other with ever-increasing stakes and a blatant disregard for themselves or the people around them. Both of them want to get into Harvard and are on the school paper, which brings things to a huge boil when both parties do something equally unforgivable in an attempt to sabotage the other — again, not thinking about if or how their actions might impact other people in their lives.
Of course, it’s not like either party is a barrel of laughs up to this pivotal point in the novel. Allison is driven and knows what she wants in life — to the point that she comes across as unlikeable and a snob. She’s judgmental of her older sister, whose life has fallen apart and is forced to move back home, and openly disdainful of Ethan and anyone else in her class who isn’t driven to the level she is. It makes it hard to root for her to accept that there might be more to her relationship with Ethan than an almost toxic level of hatred that taints every other reaction to the world and relationship she has — including that with her best friend and her parents.
It’s not like Ethan comes across as that much better, mind you.
The big issue with this one is you’ve got two unlikeable people, making it hard to root for them to find happiness by having their dreams come true and to fall in love. For a story that’s advertised as a romantic comedy, it’s a fatal flaw and for that reason, I can only give the book a single star in the rating system.
Another issue I have with it (and other YA novels) is the trope of the teenager who can’t or doesn’t want to drive a car — to the point that he or she acts put-upon by the parental figures keep suggesting that learning to drive might be a good thing. Neither Allison nor Ethan can drive in the opening moments and Allison acts like it’s a huge burden to have to learn to drive. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and find this totally unrelatable since I and most teenagers I knew couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel. There’s also the question of Allison having older parents who seem to do nothing but enable her negative behavior time and again — but I’ve found that trope in far too many YA novels.
In the end, this is a terribly disappointing book with an unlikeable cast. So, why did I finish? Part hate-reading, part curiosity to see just how unlikeable everyone could turn out to be in the end.