Book Review: The Make-up Test (ARC)

Expected publication: September 13th 2022

Author: Jenny L. Howe

2nd-chance romance
Grad-school rivals
Nerdy jokes
A cardigan-wearing love interest

In this smart, swoony, rom-com debut from Jenny L. Howe, two college exes find themselves battling against each other—and their unresolved feelings—for a spot in a prestigious literature Ph.D. program.

Allison Avery loves to win. After acing every academic challenge she’s come up against, she’s finally been accepted into her dream Ph.D. program at Claymore University, studying medieval literature under a professor she’s admired for years. Sure, grad school isn’t easy—the classes are intense, her best friend is drifting away, and her students would rather pull all-nighters than discuss The Knight’s Tale—but she’s got this. Until she discovers her ex-boyfriend has also been accepted. Colin Benjamin might be the only person who loves winning more than Allison does, and when they’re both assigned to TA for the same professor, the game is on.

What starts as a personal battle of wits (and lit) turns into all-out war when their professor announces a career-changing research trip opportunity—with one spot to fill. Competing with Colin is as natural as breathing, and after he shattered her heart two years ago, Allison refuses to let him come out on top. But when a family emergency and a late night road trip—plus a very sexy game of Scrabble—throw them together for a weekend, she starts to wonder if they could be stronger on the same team. And if they fall for each other all over again, Allison will have to choose between a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and what could be a twice-in-a-lifetime love.

The Make-up Test automatically appealed to me due two of my favorite tropes, second chance and rivals to lovers, plus the main mc is a plus-size individual. Allison Avery and Colin Benjamin met each other as undergraduates where they ended up breaking up for a mysterious reason to the reader. This reason comes to light when the two end up meeting again in graduate school. The two of them are vying for the same spot under the mentorship of a Medieval literature professor.  

Allison has gone through a lot to get to this point in her career. Not only is pursuing higher academic degrees difficult, but she also has a rough family life with an emotionally abusive father. He constantly criticized her career path and her weight. As a plus-size person, too, I loved how Allison was comfortable in her own skin where it is a part of her, but it does not define her. On the other hand, Colin was an interesting character as I believe the intent was, he was “bad” before and now changed, but I did not quite see it. Other readers may have a different opinion, but I just did not quite see the core part of him changed.

As for their competition, there is a lot of telling and not showing. Colin is assumed to be a slacker in his studies where he does not work hard yet wants to get ahead. He does, however, excel in the classroom where the students love him. This is directly contrasted to Alison who works incredibly hard behind the scenes but cannot seem to gain the resect of the students. There are moments where it seems that readers are supposed to sympathize with Colin throughout this process, but I just could not understand it even a little. In fact, the more I read about Colin, the more I disliked him and then I ended up not liking Alison for even pining for him.

Overall, I greatly enjoyed the author’s writing style as it was easy to follow while also remaining interesting. There are some nice descriptions where it was easy to follow along and there was a nice mix of simplicity with the complex. I enjoyed Allison’s internal growth, but I am not fully on board with her relationships with others, her father, her best friend, and Colin as I do not connect to how all of these played out. Colin as an individual never redeemed himself for me and just was not for me. While I did not enjoy this solely as a romance, I did enjoy experiencing this new author and would gladly read more from her in the future.

**I give a special thank you to Netgalley and the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin, for the opportunity to read this enjoyable novel. The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

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