Everyone in school knows about Locker 89. If you slip a letter in outlining your relationship woes, along with a fiver, an anonymous source will email you with the best advice you’ve ever gotten.
Darcy Phillips, a quiet, sweet junior, is safe in the knowledge no one knows she’s the genius behind locker 89. Until Brougham, a senior, catches her.
The deal Brougham offers is tempting: in exchange for his silence–and a generous coach’s fee to sweeten the deal–Darcy can become Brougham’s personal dating coach to help him get his ex-girlfriend back.
And as for Darcy, well, she has a fairly good reason to want to keep her anonymity. Because she has another secret. Not too long ago, she abused locker 89 to sabotage the budding romance of her best friend, Brooke. Brooke, who Darcy’s been in love with for a year now.
Yeah. Brooke can’t find out about that. No matter what.
Title: Perfect On Paper
Author: Sophie Gonzales
Publisher: Hachette Children’s
Intended Audience: Young Adult
TW: underage drinking and drug use, vomiting, biphobia (internal and external), strained parental relationships, divorce, infidelity, kidnapping (briefly described).
Darcy Phillips has a secret: for the past few years she’s been the mysterious relationship guru running Locker 89, offering advice to her private school classmates in exchange for payment. She’s been anonymously emailing her pointers out and reaping the rewards with steady success, right up until resident high-school heartthrob Alexander Brougham catches her collecting the days letters from the locker. Brougham is willing to keep Darcy’s identity a secret, so long as she agrees to help him win back his ex-girlfriend. This is an offer she cannot refuse, lest she wants her best friend and longtime crush Brooke to find out about her meddling in other people’s relationships, hers included.
I need to start by simply saying that this book is a true feel-good read. I had very little expectations going into this one, the author’s previous release passed me by completely but my dear friend Cossette from Tea Time Lit had also gotten an arc and immediately raved about so I decided to pick it up. (I urge you to check out her review, both because she is an own voices reviewer for bisexual rep and also because she is just a wonderful person.) So, imagine my surprise when I fell completely, head over heels in love with it within the first 20 pages!
While I was prepared for the fluffy high-school romance we got, I was really happy to see that plot alongside so many important and well-constructed conversations about the LGBTQ+ experience, coping with difficult home lives and the teen experience overall. Perfect On Paper managed to include so much incredible representation and gave each topic enough of it’s own space to breathe so nothing ever felt rushed or glossed over. The inclusion of the school’s Queer & Questioning Club was also a really inventive way to introduce a safe space within the story for some of these topics to be discussed at length. There is one scene in particular that stuck out to me, in which the club discusses internalised biphobia and the expectations on bisexuals to be ‘gay-enough’ to be accepted by the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. It was so nice to see this discussion play out in a safe environment for these teens and I’d love to know if real-life high schools have something like this these days where students can share their lived experience with one another.
Our main character, Darcy, was a joy to read about. A hopeless romantic with a heart of gold, she always has the best of intentions even if she doesn’t necessarily make the right decision. However, I really appreciated her ability to admit when she was wrong and insistence on apologising, no matter how reluctant she might be initially or how unlikely the offended party is to forgive her. Her sarcastic exchanges with Brougham and the natural progression of their relationship were a delight to witness and I found myself rooting for them long before either of them seemed to notice what was happening. My favourite character would have to Darcy’s older sister Ainsley though, I really liked the way she was framed as Darcy’s voice of reason without ever having her come across as patronising or over-bearing. She also provided some really insightful moments for me as a cis reader on the kind of things I personally have taken for granted. There’s a moment when the two of them shadow Brougham’s date at Disneyland where Ainsley comments on having never been able to have her princess makeover moment or wear Minnie Mouse ears when she was little and now being too old to do so. The isn’t something that I’d ever really thought about in that context before but is perfectly summarised by Ainsley herself: “This is such bullshit.”
Now, on the topic of Darcy’s anonymous counselling, raise your hand if you felt personally victimised by this book… 🙋♀️Most of the guidance Darcy dishes out is rooted in real-life relationship theory, which meant there were a couple of moments where I, a 22 year-old, would be reading and find myself called out by her advice! This was a really valuable element of the story, though: I think people are often quick to dismiss “teen relationship issues” as of lesser importance than those in later life, when really they can have a huge impact on how teens view themselves. To see Darcy answering such realistic and common questions from the locker with well-researched advice was an amazing thing to see and I’m so glad to see such a sex-positive view in a Young Adult novel.
I’m not ashamed to admit that, as I’m writing this review, I’ve been switching between listening to Disney Channel Original and John Hughes movie soundtracks which I think gives you a decent idea of the overall vibe this book gives off. I’ve seen it compared to the likes of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before — both of which, hold for blasphemy, I haven’t read myself but have seen the movies for and would absolutely agree — but I’d also like to throw in Disney’s Radio Rebel and Netflix’s Sex Education as strong comparisons. This is every bit the classic coming-of-age tale, love-triangles and all.
I really enjoyed reading this one, so much so that I immediately ordered a copy of her previous release Only Mostly Devastated which I’m looking forward to picking up soon. If you’re after a heart-warming YA contemporary read with all the rom-com trimmings and beautiful mess of a main character, I cannot recommend Perfect On Paper enough.