Finding she has Jace's notebook becomes even more shocking when she realizes what is inside. Jace is a super-famous online writer on Scribbles (like Wattpad), where he writes fantasy romance. When things don't go as planned with the notebook return, McKenna covers for him and claims that she is the writer. As things spiral out of control, Jace and McKenna must meet to figure out how to keep their secret, a task made harder by their mutual attraction. But can a jock and an outcast ever be in a real relationship?
What I loved: There are a lot of really fun elements to the story, particularly surrounding the secret fantasy romance Jace writes. I really enjoyed hearing about his famous novel that he is in the process of writing and releasing. There are also some important themes in the book around bullying, mental illness and related stigma, and parental/societal pressures and expectations. McKenna is bullied in school for the way that she dresses, with other students calling her "Goth Girl," but it escalates as more people know who she is, with a particularly rough conversation. The book provides a good example of standing up for others as a bystander, as another classmate does.
Mental illness is also a big theme, as McKenna is trying to manage her mother's illness and the stigma around it with classmates and even her father who left, as well as her own internalized shame. This theme is not fully explored on the page, but it would be helpful to discuss with readers in the context of resources and appropriate treatments. Both characters are dealing with social pressures and expectations, and Jace is also dealing with an unsupportive parent. These are scenarios that will resonate with YA readers.
What left me wanting more: The book builds slowly for the most part, and the beginning feels repetitive as we get a lot of the same information from both characters. The attraction does take a while to really feel less surface level. Once it gets going, the pace does speed up, and at the end, there are some scenarios that did not feel fully resolved. Jace and McKenna are dealing with trust issues that seem to need some deeper conversations and realizations. The book mostly includes simple apologies and one grand gesture, but I would have appreciated more depth to their relationship and resolutions.
I also would have liked more depth to the characters, as they sometimes seemed like caricatures in a way that just leaned into goth and jock. There were also some plot threads that didn't feel like they had fully played out by the end of the book, and I wanted a bit more of those to fully immerse into the story.
Final verdict: GUTTER GIRL is an overall cute YA contemporary romance about a secret author, high school, and opposite attraction.