I’m beginning to develop a massive amount of love for the written works of Sophie Gonzales, having just fallen head over heels and hand over foot for Perfect on Paper. I loved this book’s story so much that I finished it in less than a day. Perfect on Paper very much feels like one of those YA romances that just demands to be made into a film. That’s how good it is. In so many ways, I desperately need to see this. So, Netflix, where are you at? This is so much better than many of the nonsense you’ve movie-tized over the years. Come and get it.
So, at surface level this is the story of Darcy Phillips and the ups and downs involved with the anonymous relationship advice giving business she has set up for herself. The whole student body knows about it, they just don’t know who runs it. It’s an unquestionable fact that if you need advice and stick your letter through the slot of locker 89, you’ll receive an email telling you how to fix your problem.
And so, one day, as Darcy is retrieving her letters she is caught by surprise when one of her classmates catches her in the act.
Honestly, you pretty much get the gist of this story from it’s blurb. And while quite predictable, Perfect on Paper is just the kind of cheesy predictable that is, perfect on paper.
Let’s Talk About the Characters
This is probably the most sexually diverse cast of characters I have ever come across. First, there’s Darcy–our main character–who is bi. Then, her best friend, Brooke Nguyen is a lesbian. Fairly prominent side characters Raina and Finn are bi and gay respectively. Then there’s Ainsley, Darcy’s sister, who is trans. Finally, we have Alexander Brougham, who is straight. And the best part? They are all brilliantly, wonderfully gifted with amazing personalities and incredible depth.
There’s so much I could say about Darcy, really. She carries the whole story in such an expertly executed way. This is only my second novel of Gonzales’ and if this is the level of brilliance she is going to continue to have with her lead characters, it won’t be the last. The research and development that went into this character was impressive. You can tell that Gonzales really put her all into building Darcy, especially as she incorporated all those pieces of relationship psychology.
Now, let me be perfectly clear here: Darcy isn’t perfect. In fact, she makes several huge and honestly terrible mistakes throughout the course of the novel that, at times, you may find yourself furious with her.
The thing that got me, though, about Darcy with both her good and bad moments was how utterly real she felt. This is a girl who is young and learning. She does some admittedly awful things to someone based solely on personal emotions that several have referenced made her difficult for them to like in their reviews. But honestly? For me, I had very little trouble forgiving her for all of it.
Not only was Darcy only fifteen for the worst of it and sixteen for the next piece, but she’d also never been in a relationship. She also recognizes where she’s been awful and makes an effort to become a better person. That’s a lot more than I can say for all those novels with cheating plots that basically reward the cheaters with their new relationship and never really condemn them for it.
I guess this is kind of a hill I want to die upon, in the end. Darcy is a teenager, understandably prone to stupid mistakes based off emotions that she has not had the time or experience to fully understand the scope of her actions. And while that never excuses it, the fact that she actually takes actionable steps toward righting her wrongs is utterly amazing. Honestly? Go Darcy. I love you.
I honestly cannot with this kid. I think the best thing about Brougham was the slow-burn love you, as the reader, develop for him. Gonazales did an exceptional job with this character. He, too, I think benefited from the research she did for this novel. Of course, the most brilliant piece to how we slowly fall in love with Alexander Brougham lies with Darcy.
I cannot express enough how much I deeply appreciated the main character’s unreliability as a narrator.
Perhaps this sounds weird, but trust me on this. You see, readers get to experience and learn about Brougham through the lens of Darcy Phillips and her perceptions. What’s great is that Darcy’s perceptions are very individual and not always correct. Not only was this a brilliant way to develop her character, but it served to do wonders for Brougham as well. You get a first impression that is clouded in Darcy’s understanding of the world. Then, wonderfully, it shifts just as new information arises to enlighten her.
I can honestly say that I have never been more impressed with the way a YA romance has been narrated. Ever.
Aside from that, though, there is an adorable vulnerability to Alexander Brougham’s character that I just couldn’t keep myself from finding incredibly endearing. And as we get to know him better, our own understand of him surpasses Darcy’s. In that sense, Gonzales introduces us to a great deal of information about Brougham that even Darcy misses and it is truly fascinating. While, sure, this does make the novel feel somewhat predictable, I found it honestly refreshing in a weird way.
You might have to wait for Darcy to catch up to everything, but you find yourself loving Brougham so much more than you would had everything been obvious to her from the start. His development was just so phenomenal. From a psychology perspective, I frankly found Perfect on Paper utterly brilliant.
Okay, so the side characters are excellent.
It’s difficult to pinpoint which of the side characters is the most important. Many of them play rather large roles in the story as a whole. Genuinely, I find myself torn between calling out Brooke or Ainsley. I’d say, out of everyone, they are the most pivotal to the tale. And I loved everything about them. There are, of course, Brougham’s friends–the most notable being Finn–but they don’t play large roles in the events of the novel.
As for the parents, Darcy’s mom is the most prominent character in terms of ‘screen time.’ And while I enjoyed reading her moments, the dichotomy of parental relationships was more interesting. It was utterly fascinating to see how Gonzales incorporated the psychology of divorced parents as well as parents who are in a rather toxic relationship into her novel.
Truth be told, I don’t have a lot of complaints about this one. Though, I suppose that could be evidenced by the 5-star rating. I frankly don’t think there’s much more that I could ask of this novel. I genuinely loved how Gonzales did research into the psychology of relationships in order to write this. It’s pretty clear just from the novel and the great thing is that you don’t have to have a background in psychology to understand it. Though, admittedly, it is really cool to have that background.
There is some commentary about biphobia in this novel, too, as it relates to the invalidation of bisexuality and belonging to the LGBTQ+ community when one is in a relationship with the opposite gender. As far as I’m concerned, this was handled incredibly well. There’s so much sincerity and community in the culminating moment. That said, I don’t consider myself to be an authority voice on this subject and thus I point you to Gonzales own statement on this and implore you to read own voices reviews before taking my word on it.
I had so much fun reading this and I feel so in love with the characters. I fell infinitely more than I did for the characters in Gonzales’ last novel, so if you liked that one you should definitely try this one. And I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.