To be entirely up front, I’m going to tell you a probably surprising fact: I don’t love the heroine. Lainey’s totally not someone I could envision being best friends with at all. She’s not incredibly smart, she’s a jock, and she’s popular. She spray tans herself orange because her boyfriend said she looked better that way. Despite her rep as a mean girl, she mostly seems to let her boyfriend Jason and his sister Kendall boss her around and tell her who to be. Obviously, she’s got a narrative arc and grows and changes a lot during The Art of Lainey once Jason dumps her, but though we get to be acquaintances Lainey and I are not kindred spirits.
All of that is to say that I think it’s a lot easier for me to love a book when the characters are in some way reflecting myself. Of course I love a book about a girl like me who goes on magic adventures or finds the perfect guy. I’m not disparaging those books either. However, I’m always really impressed when an author can make me care about a character I initially have negative feelings towards, as I did with both Lainey and Micah. Oh right, Micah I disliked because of his smoking habit, which is something I super do not approve of. BUT Stokes made me care about the two of them. She made me invested in spite of myself. I mean, damn, do they have chemistry. Just damn.
The beginning of the book was immediately entertaining, because the dumping reminded me of She’s the Man, with the perfect soccer star relationship ending dramatically. At the same time, though, I was definitely torn on the premise. Lainey, Micah and Leo are all determined to win their exes back using Sun Tzu’s strategies, which is admittedly a hilarious premise, but also, kids, please have more self-esteem. Basically, my advice would be to just roll with it, because the ultimate message is a healthy one, so enjoy the humorous ride along the way.
Speaking of healthy, there’s a lot of wonderful healthy stuff in The Art of Lainey. First off, Lainey has two loving parents. They’re not around much, but they’re present. She’s a rising senior and hasn’t ever done anything terrible, so they trust her. However, her mom steps in once to prevent a bad plan, and has obviously been keeping an eye out to her daughter’s safety. They’re believable, caring, slightly awkward parents. Then there’s Lainey’s best friend Bianca, who is Spanish and really smart and reliable. I wish she were in the book slightly more, but I do like how quietly there for Lainey she is, which is amazing given everything. The Art of Lainey is also very sex positive with mention of birth control, and very much not a this-high-school-relationship-is-true-love-that-will-last-forever sort of book. Oh, also, all the characters are thinking about what comes after high school, which is super realistic but often doesn’t happen.
What Left Me Wanting More:
The one aspect of The Art of Lainey that left me unsettled was Kendall, Lainey’s other best friend and her ex-boyfriend’s sister. Kendall is a classic mean girl, complete with a whole host of both mommy and daddy issues. I sort of feel like Kendall gets shafted with the whole thing. Basically everything that Lainey’s ever done wrong sort of gets thrown in Kendall’s direction. While Kendall’s definitely deserving of a lot of blame, that felt unfair, and I would have liked to see a bit more depth from her. I’m also curious as to how Bianca is still friends with Lainey because I can’t imagine Kendall being nice to her and I suspect Lainey probably dumped Bianca a lot for Kendall and Jason. Kendall was conveniently out of the way over the summer, but I just cannot fathom what their dynamics were like before.
The Final Verdict:
The Art of Lainey is a fabulous read full of life-like characters and it had me flipping pages really quickly, more desperate to find out not so much what would happen but how than I’ve been in a while. I’d say it’s a good readalike for Lauren Morrill’s Meant to Be with the opposites attract element or for readers who want an athletic heroine or a love interest with a mohawk.