Queer YA Spotlight: She Gets the Girl

I stare in awe at the massive buffet of toppings: fresh fruit, cookie dough, Oreos, sprinkles in every color imaginable. My one-size-fits-all paper cup is already filled to the brim with cookies-and-cream frozen yoghurt, but now it’s bound to overflow. My forearm is practically sore from scooping by the time I reach the end, and I glance up to see Molly has added only one small scoop of Rice Krispies on top of her strawberry yoghurt, like an actual psychopath.

“Of everything, you get THAT?” I shake my head. “No wonder you don’t have a girlfriend.”

She rolls her eyes and jabs me with her elbow, giving me a Really, Alex? look that I’ve become all too familiar with over the past two weeks.

Only this time, there’s a trace of a smile underneath it all.

Premise: Molly and Alex could not be more different, yet when they end up at the same college party they realise they have something crucial in common: they’re both trying to impress the respective girl of their dreams, and they’re both falling flat on their face. Alex makes a proposal: she’ll use her charisma and wit to help Molly woo Cora, the girl Molly’s had a goofy unrequited crush on since high school, thus proving Alex’s good nature to her reluctant girlfriend, Natalie. Nothing about this plan can go wrong, and they definitely won’t fall in slow-burn, unlikely love with each other along the way.

Rainbow rep: a central f/f couple, both IDing as lesbians; multiple other sapphic characters in the ensemble cast

Content considerations: alcoholism; emotionally immature parents; brief depictions of casual sexual harassment and victim blaming

I have been known to be a sucker for a good ol’ fashioned matchmaker plot.

But no matter how much you love the taste of corn, a corny rom-com cannot carry on its premise and tropes alone: it needs characters you can believe in and get attached to, so you’re compelled to stick around and watch their affection for one another grow and fall into place. That, I reckon, is where She Gets the Girl, written by wife and wife duo Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick, shines.

Alex and Molly are both really fun, interesting, layered characters, and the contrasts between them do an excellent job showcasing the vast, weird differences in people’s experiences at age 18. Alex has, in many ways, been forced to grow up early, working at a bar despite being under drinking age so she can bring in money to support her alcoholic mother. Molly is, by comparison, extremely sheltered, socially awkward and reluctantly admitting to her mother being her best friend.

Alex is deeply, painfully practical, diving into a medical degree despite being squeamish because she wants a stable and luxurious cash flow after a life of scraping by. Molly is more idealistic (both when it comes to her future aspirations and her daydreamy crush on Cora) and yet, at the same time, more emotionally wise and in touch with what she actually wants in life. Alex has an active sex life with her girlfriend and knows the ins and outs of hookup culture; Molly accidentally wanders into a sex ed demonstration on campus because she thinks the bowl of condoms are complimentary mints.

As you might imagine, these two bounce off one another when they first meet, assigning each other the role of “too-cool bimbo” and “insufferable geek-ass nerd” based on their rocky first impressions. The back cover calls this book a “hate to love romance” but I don’t think that’s quite accurate: it’s more like a “bad first impressions based on awkward circumstances and stereotypical presumptions, to reluctant co-schemers in a matchmaker plot, to genuine friends, to lovers” story. But that doesn’t fit as nicely in a blurb, so fair enough I guess.

They shouldn’t get along, but they do, at first thrown together by Alex’s hilariously calculated Five Step Plan for Getting the Girl, but quickly softening into something more genuine. Alex brings Molly out of her shell, not through structured lessons about how to flirt effectively, but through her compassion and sense of humour. Molly helps Alex open up, not through her huffing that Alex is emotionally unavailable and too-cool-for-school, but through gentle kindness and honesty that makes Alex feel safe.

Ah, but what about the Girls they’re respectively trying to Get? Doesn’t this throw a spanner in the works? Well, yes, and that’s another area where the character work carries this story. It’s the easy way out, in romantic stories with pre-established relationships or crushes, to make the initial anti-love interest an obvious bad match. Yet She Gets the Girl doesn’t take the easy way out. Cora seems genuinely lovely and you can understand why Molly likes her so much. Likewise, early chapters work to establish Natalie’s likeability and her perfectly understandable issues with her relationship with Alex.

The cracks in these romances are inevitable, but they’re dripped in subtly enough that it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. Perspective helps, of course: the reader is primed not to notice Natalie’s flippant lack of emotional support because we’re in Alex’s head, and Alex is convinced that all the bad things in their relationship are her fault. Cora is maybe not as perfect, and not as compatible with Molly, as she might have dreamed, but Cora is seen as an attainable goal by both narrators throughout the book, so flaws and issues end up set aside. Even in the end, Cora is never a bad person. Natalie might get a teensy bit villainised at the climax in the name of really driving home the drama, but the buildup is smooth enough that she never feels like the designated bad guy: just an ordinary human being with her own stuff going on who’s kind of a crummy girlfriend.

The up and down of all this is that Alex and Molly’s slow melt from strangers to best friends to wait, I think I’m in love with her?? is really effective, and it stirs up genuine emotional conflict alongside the utter happiness they get from being together. It’s tricky, and even though, of course, you know it’s all going to be okay, the narrative smoke and mirrors are successful enough that you really do wonder, “how are they going to sort this out?”

But they do, they do, and that’s not a spoiler because this is a rom-com—a quintessential goofy, cheesy rom-com with all the beats you might expect, dipped in a healthy serving of nostalgia for vintage movies, young love, and the university setting (where the co-authors met). In contrast to the last book I spotlighted, these two are already settled securely in their queer identity, meaning they have everything else to worry about instead—and also, of course, meaning that we can dive headfirst into lesbian rom-com shenanigans with no stop-offs at coming out or coming to terms.

She Gets the Girl is cute, but crucially it has those layers of character depth to make the cuteness land with impact: you understand Alex’s struggles with boundaries and the trauma of her home life, Molly’s anxiety and desire to figure out who she is. It makes it all the more rewarding when they get their ice-cream-sweet, popcorn-corny romance arc, and if you’re hungry for one of those I can definitely recommend this

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1 Comment

Filed under Alex Reads

One response to “Queer YA Spotlight: She Gets the Girl

  1. Pingback: A Cruel Angel’s Thesis Submission: June ’22 Roundup | The Afictionado

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