Mhairi McFarlane, Here’s Looking at You
Aureliana Alessi was never the most popular girl in school. On the contrary, her bushy hair, dumpy figure, and acne-filled complexion ensured that she was frequently teased and bullied. Her worst torment of all came at the hands of James Fraser, the popular boy she had a crush on, who brutally humiliated her at the end-of-year talent show. Now, 10 years later, Aureliana has shed her old persona and her old name: she goes by Anna, and she loves her job as a history professor. But when her department agrees to assist a local museum with an upcoming exhibit, Anna is shocked to run into James Fraser again; he’s part of the publicity firm handling the exhibit. James is as handsome as ever, but he still seems to be the same shallow, self-absorbed person he was in high school. Worst of all, he doesn’t even recognize Anna, much less remember what he did to her. Nevertheless, as Anna and James start to spend more time together, they gradually become friends. She even finds herself harboring romantic feelings for him again. But will their fragile relationship survive when James discovers who Anna really is?
When I first heard about this book, the plot summary intrigued me right away. It seemed like the kind of thing that could be done either very well or VERY badly, depending on how the author handled the situation. I also felt a personal connection to the plot, since I was frequently picked on in school, and those experiences definitely still affect me today. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I found Anna a very relatable character, and her various emotions toward James — everything from anger to desire to embarrassment — made sense to me. I also think James is portrayed very well. He’s not an admirable character, especially in the beginning of the book; he’s selfish and lost, and the company he keeps isn’t helping. But his backstory is just sympathetic enough that I was rooting for him to change, and I could understand why Anna wanted to be around him. Toward the last third of the book, I realized that this book borrows its basic outline from [Pride and Prejudice], which was a nice bonus for me! But the novel stands very well on its own merits, and I’d recommend it to people who like their chick lit with a little depth.
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