Liz Buxbaum has always known that Wes Bennett was not boyfriend material. You would think that her next-door neighbor would be a prince candidate for her romantic comedy fantasies, but Wes has only proven himself to be a pain in the butt, ever since they were little. Wes was the kid who put a frog in her Barbie Dreamhouse, the monster who hid a lawn gnome's severed head in her little homemade neighborhood book exchange. Flash forward ten years from the Great Gnome Decapitation. It's Liz's senior year, a time meant to be rife with milestones perfect for any big screen, and she needs Wes's help. See, Liz's forever crush, Michael, has just moved back to town, and—horribly, annoyingly—he's hitting it off with Wes. Meaning that if Liz wants Michael to finally notice her, and hopefully be her prom date, she needs Wes. He's her in. But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz her magical prom moment, she's shocked to discover that she actually likes being around Wes. And as they continue to grow closer, she must reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own perception of what Happily Ever After should really look like.
Better Than the MoviesFeatured
This book is everything I want when reading this genre. Firstly, the story itself is self-aware. It’s both celebrating the classic rom-com (see the iconic movie quotes at the start of each chapter), as well as deconstructing it. In other words, it pokes at the genre’s flaws, while also upholding its virtues. For instance, there are many classic tropes at play: enemies-to-lovers, friends-to-lovers, boy-next-door, fake relationship, kissing in the rain, huge misunderstanding, etc... Painter throws them all into the mix, but they feel fresh, because she makes us care— and oh boy, did I care about what was going to happen to these characters! Secondly, the romance is swoony! The way that Painter builds the tension is excellent, and she knows exactly when to release it so it feels earned.
What Liz is going through outside of her dating drama is also thoroughly developed, and I appreciate that her struggles connect back to the same root trauma that’s sabotaging her happiness in all areas of her life. Most people can trace a lot of their problems back to a childhood event, and Liz is no different. Because of this, she feels like a three-dimensional person, as does most of the other characters. I especially like how Laney is introduced to us, through Liz’s gaze, and then we as readers get to decide how we feel about her. I also love Helena and find her to be pretty sympathetic.
That being said, BETTER THAN THE MOVIES is a self-fulling prophesy of a title, because it ranks right up there with some of the best. This book is perfect for fans of 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU and EASY A, and really anyone who just wants a good laugh and warm feelings. I was in a bit of a slump when I started this book, and I read it in under two days. In fact, I’d love to see what Liz and Wes get up to in college! I can’t wait to read more from this author.