Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
“There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.
Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?
Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.
What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.”
Two boys who are supposed to fight over a girl end up falling for one another instead? And they’re spies, too? Count me in. This sounds like it will be one of the most interesting and fresh pieces of YA LGBTQ+ literature out there right now.
Was it? Depends on the reader, to be honest. For me, I can say this book didn’t meet my expectations, but I still really enjoyed what it achieved and also what it tried to achieve.
Even though I’ve been through hell, even though I’ve been told I’m worthless my whole life, even though I’m gay, even though the world wants me to bow down and accept that who I am makes me insignificant, the following is true:
“I’m the protagonist, fucker!”
As a parody, The Love Interest works, but only to a certain extent. During the first half of the book, I felt as if there were more instances in which the author explored and exposed YA tropes we’ve come to expect and accept in YA literature. For example, the boys are told how and what to do (like purposefully bump into the girl in the hall at school) by their coaches through earpieces. The second half of the book, however, especially the ending, seems to forget itself and doesn’t contain as much ironic or sarcastic content as before. I enjoy a good bit of satire, and while Dietrich makes a great effort in integrating satirical commentary on these YA clichés, his parodic structure does not hold from beginning to end.
The characters are caricatures of YA archetypes as Caden represents the good guy, Dylan the bad boy, and Juliet the girl caught between the two. I think it’s safe to say these characters are likable but not particularly memorable and are somewhat boring.
One thing I really appreciated, though, was Caden’s definitive lack of internal conflict over his sexual orientation. He knows he is gay and does not mourn the fact. He is quite sure of his identity and it was nice to see a YA protagonist who has a strong sense of self.
I don’t exist to teach her a lesson, and it irks me that she thinks labelling me is okay now. Like, by liking guys, I automatically take on that role in her life. That I’m suddenly a supporting character in her story rather than the hero of my own.
I also really enjoyed how the book is told from Caden’s perspective, however, I feel as if the story would have been much stronger if we had access to Dylan’s point of view as well. With his added voice, I believe the romance would have had more impact and would have been more meaningful for this particular same-sex relationship.
While I liked how Caden and Dylan formed a relationship by the end, I have to say that their romance left me wanting. The romance was a bit accelerated and blurred over by transitionary passages and dialogues to the point where their relationship was done in summation and didn’t feel sincere or fully developed. It felt controlled and slightly one-sided (but only because we only know how Caden feels).
His use of the word “she” makes me flinch. He said it so confidently, like I would only ever want to kiss girls. I know that’s not the case, and that wanting to kiss another boy is perfectly normal, but he doesn’t seem to know that.
The ending of the book felt rushed and disconnected from the first half of the story. The satirical spy concept evolved into a kids saving the world concept. It’s almost as if the author forgot his original parodic intentions and didn’t really know how to combine the satire with the spy action by the end the book. I won’t say the ending was bad, just that it didn’t fit with the overall tone of the story.
This book isn’t perfect, but it’s still pretty good. It started out with an intriguing concept that got bogged down by an uneventful chain of events that fell victim to the very tropes it made fun of (boy meets girl, boy tries to impress girl, romance happens, etc. etc.) The sections where Caden and Dylan actually spend time together are sweet and the satire (when present) is witty and the highlight of the book. It’s not the book I wanted, but it’s still an enjoyable read and a much needed addition to LGBTQ+ representation in YA books.