Author: Holly Bourne
Overview from Goodreads:
April is kind, pretty and relatively normal—yet she can’t seem to get past date five. Every time she thinks she’s found someone to trust, they reveal themselves to be awful, leaving her heartbroken. And angry. Until she realizes that what men are really looking for is Gretel.
Gretel is perfect—beautiful but low maintenance, sweet but never clingy, sexy but not a slut. She’s your regular, everyday Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl-Next-Door with no problems.
When April starts pretending to be Gretel, dating becomes much more fun—especially once she reels in the unsuspecting Joshua. Finally, April is the one in control, but can she control her own feelings? And as she and Joshua grow closer, how long will she be able to keep pretending?
This book delves into rape, sexual violations, and how to move forward wrapped up in a story about love, life, and friendship. This is my first Holly Bourne and her writing feels very approachable. When the main character’s inner thoughts were on the page or when she interacted with others, I felt as if it’s my own friends just telling me their life’s stories as it had that relatable and friendly aspect. It was a very realistic approach to writing as the wording choices and tones were like one friend talking to another. It gave this novel some levity while focusing on the darker topics.
Our main character, April, is a 29-year-old worker at a sexual health charity on a journey to find a romantic male partner with her dating past not going well. Her work is stressful especially when she does shifts to answer anonymous frontline emails from people asking if their boyfriends or other male raped them. This is triggering for April as her last long-term relationship was emotionally abusive and he did rape her (though it took her years to come to terms with it). As she navigates the dating world, she realizes that men seem to have a hard time dealing with her and her flaws. She invents an alter ego, named Gretel, who says and does what April believes to be a perfect dating partner. She places Gretel’s profile online and begins an experiment to see if Gretel can make a guy fall for her with the plan to dump him, just like April has been dumped by men.
While being Gretel she meets Joshua and the two of them begin dating. April has a difficult time sometimes trying to suppress her real self in favor of being “perfect” Gretel. The two of them form a relationship and we get to see April struggling with trying to keep up with Gretel and balancing her own life as April. The more time she spends with Joshua, the more she starts to think that maybe all men aren’t that bad. The more she gets to get to know him, the more she starts to think that he could be the one that’s different or she could be wrong and he is just like the rest. (You’ll have to read the book to actually find the answer.)
One thing that was hard to identify with April is why she was so determined in the first place to find a man. It seemed to be that she was so focused on finding one because almost all of her friends were with a partner and she was the one left behind. There was never a moment in the entire novel where she even thought of exploring the possibility that maybe a man isn’t necessary to be happy in the end. It was disappointing as someone shouldn’t need a partner to be their goal.
This novel is a fantastic and informative read when it comes to how micro-aggressions can have some damaging effects on people. Typically when we think of aggression it comes in the form of macro-aggression and we tend to brush off micro-aggressions, but these can sometimes be more damaging to people than you realize and it was a great addition to this book’s discussion of the different forms abuse can take. This and the many other themes that many women go through on a daily basis illustrate the stresses that we either experience or put on ourselves. When April becomes Gretel, she believes a woman should discuss x, y, z with a man and then a, b, c with a woman and she puts a huge emphasis on not deviating from the script she’s put together for herself. This is one of the many times where we create stress on ourselves trying to project our “best” selves to others so we seem as perfect as possible.
I enjoyed reading this story and highly recommend it to all people to explore April’s journey to heal and how we all need a support system around us and can’t put all the pressure to go about it alone. Healing is never the same path for everyone and it’s never a linear process where you’ll never experience set-backs and these are important lessons for anyone to take away from this book. Everyone heals differently and at their own pace and no two people will heal in the exact same way (even if their situations look the same on paper).
**Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an ARC. Opinions expressed in this review are my own.**