Recommendation Tuesday: Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Recommendation Tuesday: Trade Me by Courtney Milan

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

Have I ever told you guys what prompted me to pick up my first Courtney Milan book?

Obviously I'd heard of her, but I didn't decide to read one of her novels until one date I was screwing around on Tumblr (as one does) and accidentally tapped on the notes link on the bottom of a Tumblr post from one of the many Australian Shepherd Tumblrs I follow and noticed that the person who'd like the post of a cute Aussie puppy was Courtney Milan. Obviously, this was important information! A quite look at Courtney's Twitter feed told me that yes indeed she shares her life with one of these wacky dogs too. So, I picked up one of her books, even though historicals set in England aren't usually my cup of tea and enjoyed it.

And this, my friends, is why book marketing is such a tough nut to crack.

And while historicals aren't usually my bag, I love contemporary. But! I don't usually like "new adult," which has been largely a troplosion (trope + explosion) that doesn't work for me. Plus, I don't like billionaire love interests at all (hey, but neither does the author usually, either).  But! I like Courtney Milan's writing, so when I got the chance to read her first new adult contemporary thanks to NetGalley, I figured it was worth a shot. 

What I found was a surprisingly nuanced romance that explored class and the immigrant experience and even featured a few fake boyfriend scenes, which you know are the bomb dot com over in this neck of the world. 

There are a million things we could be to each other, if only we were different people. If I were a different person, I would have asked her out last September. If she were a different person, we’d have been in bed weeks ago. Instead, we’re us. Close enough to hurt, but not close enough to do more than touch for an instant and let go.

Tina Chen is the daughter of immigrants attending the University of California. She's got her eyes on the prize, she wants to graduate and help her struggling family. Her budget is beyond thing, and she snaps at a classmate--Blake, who stands to eventually inherit Cyclone Technology (think Apple) from his charismatic Steve Jobs-like father--one day after he makes a thoughtless comment about poverty. He challenges her to trade places with him, she lives his life, he lives hers, complete with her shoestring budget.

What lingers with me most about Trade Me is that class differences are revealed in surprising, layered ways that I didn't expect out of such an unsubtle-seeming story setup.

“Out of curiosity,” he says, “that money I transferred to your account. Have you spent any of it?”

I haven’t wanted to touch any of it. I want to let it build up, a huge sum to ward off any possible danger. Still, I slowly nod my head.

“On anything extravagant? Anything silly?”

I swallow. “I bought mangoes.” He smiles a touch sarcastically, and I reach out and give him a little shove. That’s a mistake. It puts my hand in contact with his shoulder. His bare skin is cool to the touch, and I don’t pull away. “Hey,” I say. “Mangoes are expensive.”

Class differences are often (though not universally) hand-waved away in romance where the wealthy alpha male is such a popular archetype that's worked as far back as old fairytales (to which Milan overtly gives a nod in this novel), and I love that Trade Me tackles this in an authentic-feeling way.

Every little girl dreams of a prince to take her away from the drudgery of life, someone who will sweep her off her feet and take care of her. It’s something that comes from that first swell of Disney music that we hear as children. And the truth is, Blake would be such a prince. He’s sweet. He’s caring. He looks at me like there’s nobody else in the world. And he kisses like… But, I remind myself, that’s all it is: cultural programming. It’s the effect of too many animated movies watched at too young an age. It isn’t real. In fiction, the story ends when Prince Charming whisks Cinderella away to his castle. But there’s a reason why the poor girl who wins herself a prince is usually an orphan.

The other thing that I loved about Trade Me is an element I'm going to have to dance around in order to not spoil an important character point, and that's Blake's particular set of issues that manifests themselves in a disorder that's unexpected for a romance "hero." He can't rescue Tina because he really has to rescue himself.

Just as Tina has to be the heroine of her own life, Blake must be his own hero. Hello! How fantastic is that? 

My throat closes. It matters that he doesn’t tell me that my feelings are stupid, that they need to be shoved aside. My emotions are a tangling, irrational mess—but they’re still mine, and my fear mixes with confusion, respect, and appreciation.

Like all books, Trade Me is imperfect, particularly the somewhat overwrought ending, but it's one of the most satisfying genre romances I've read in awhile and definitely has made me more open-minded about giving the occasional "new adult" title a shot. Plus, it's yet another strongly feminist novel, which is par for the course for Milan, but always a joy to read in that the particular brand of feminism in all of her novels is complicated and nuanced, just like life.

Find it: Amazon | Goodreads

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