Review: Trade Me by Courtney Milan

trade meReviewed by Carrie

The premise of the book sounded good (even if a bit implausible) – college rich boy trades lives with poor girl. The book is penned by a solid and well-reviewed author of historical romance. So why did I not care for this book? Is it because it’s the author’s first go at contemporary? I’m thinking it is more likely a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”.

Tina Chen knows her life isn’t easy but sucks it up and does what she needs to keep her family afloat. That’s not easy when her parents, especially her mother, have no idea the amount she sacrifices so her family has basic utilities and medicine.  She knows how to make $15 and a 10lb bag of rice stretch. Tina’s whole college goal is to be a doctor so she and her family will never have to worry about money again.

Tina is usually a heads down student but an Econ class discussion about food stamps sets her blood boiling when rich boy, Blake Reynolds, makes a flippant remark about people on food stamps. Tina rips Blake a new one for is blind ignorance and pandering attitude.  He apologizes but it is lost on her.

Back home, Blake is dealing with his own problems. His father, Adam, is the founder and CEO of one of the largest tech companies in the world. Blake has been a part of that company since birth and developing since he was 14. Recently, the man who was personally closest to Blake and Adam, the company’s CFO, unexpectedly passed away and that has rocked both of their worlds.  The death made Blake really see that his life was consumed by the company, much like his father’s. Blake, desperately seeking some control in his life, took a sabbatical and went to college as an attempt at normal. However, his other attempts at control are overtaking his life.

Blake decides that the best way to figure out his life is to run far far away from it.  He’s always liked Tina from afar and after their class discussion, Blake thinks they can help both of them.  It doesn’t take much more than dangling $15,000 in front of Tina to get her to agree to trade lives for a month.  She doesn’t think he’ll hack it but she’s not about to give up that kind of cash.  Of course, things never go as planned when no one is dealing with their problems.

The individual characters of Blake and Tina are well drawn and unique.  Tina is an immigrant.  Her family was persecuted for their religious beliefs and although she barely remembers China, she feels a sense of responsibility to those who helped her family escape.  It is refreshing to read a different family dynamic (of which I am very familiar as my grandparents are immigrants) and the responsibilities/guilt that goes along with that. I would’ve liked to have seen more interaction with Tina’s whole family, not just her mother.

Blake’s family is just as unique. All Blake has had is his father and Cyclone (the mother is strictly verboten).   Though their attitudes and dialogue might be mercurial, one can’t deny the great love and affection they have for one another. Their relationship felt the most genuine out of anyone else in the book. The certain things in both Blake and Adam’s life are the crushing expectations and responsibilities of Cyclone that affect nearly every corner of their lives.

Unfortunately, the romance did not work for me at all. Tina and Blake were so focused, and rightfully so, on dealing with serious things in their lives that the romance felt like a forced afterthought.   I thought Tina’s reasons for avoiding a relationship with Blake were flimsy and shallow. Blake was a little more reachable because of his openness but it felt like they should be best friends, not lovers.

The story was well written. The New Adult angst was present in the main characters individual lives but not the romance.  It did feel like the author was trying to be so inclusive of different characters and themes, it might have went a bit overboard.  Again, I feel like a lot of people will like this book. I just couldn’t connect.

Rating: C-

*ARC provided by author via NetGalley

Click to purchase: Amazon

Trade Me
by Courtney Milan
Release Date: January 19, 2015

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