Gia Montgomery is that girl. You know the one; sweet as sugar, nice as spice, never a hair out of place in an expertly constructed facade of perfection. With killer friends, a white bread perfect family, and a college boyfriend her life is never out of line with her A grade expectations. That is until Bradley, the aforementioned subject of Gia’s flirtmance, breaks up with her in the parking lot of senior prom. Gia has a reputation to uphold however and with that the show must go on; in the form of a fill-in boyfriend meant to keep the scent of blood at bay from her shark of a frenemy, Jules. As the night draws to a close though it’s not the real Bradley occupying Gia’s thoughts but a boy whom she doesn’t even know the first thing about. Well, except for one connection; his little sister Bec who hates Gia’s guts. Good grief…what’s a girl to do? In true Kasie West fashion (or so I’ve heard), what follows is lot’s of self discovery, mean girl antics, family and friend dynamics, and as the title illudes; plentiful time spent with fill-in-Bradley. So was this lollipop book one sprinkled with depth and insight or a mere summer read? Well, let’s find out!
Kasie West has built a reputation as an author on her ability to write swoon worthy relationships between high school girls and their to die for beau’s. A little more substantial than pure chick lit fluff, but not quite at the level of perception some young adult out there offer, all three of her contemporaries rank high on the scale of cutesy romance. So why the so-so rating on my part? I think I just may have started with the wrong book by her as, admittedly, the premise of The Fill-In-Boyfriend, while amusing, isn’t one that intrigued me all that much. As such, after the initial conflict was resolved in under one hundred pages I had some pretty serious issues with pacing. There was nothing left to keep me turning the pages, and major plot lags happened as a result. During the times when West was setting the scene for various conflicts, I struggled to find the desire to read about Gia’s strained family, her stereotypical friends, or the perfect boy she’s now lusting over; none of whom I was all that invested in. Like I said earlier, because The Fill-In-Boyfriend is a book intended to be light and fun, I immediately knocked my rating down a few stars for the absence of page turning factors.
Now that readers know me and West’s writing have no lost love for each other, I bet they’re also wondering what my feelings were on the cast of characters. Well, let me tell you…they left very little impression on me. What exactly does that even me? Basically, I can foresee other reviewers either panning Gia as horribly shallow and self-absorbed throughout, or singing praises for the growth she experiences, so I just wanted to clear the air and say I belong in neither of those camps. There were some characters I liked, others not so much, but never did I feel like throwing the book across the room at the idiocy of certain scenarios, as which I consider the book a semi-win in that respect. Gia, our protagonist, sees the world through a pair of visors in the beginning of the book, anything outside her line of vision is really not her concern. As one can imagine, she’s hardly going to genuinely win Miss. Congeniality. Unlike several of the more cynical reviewers out there however, I never hated her. Sure, I doubt we would be besties if we attended high school together, and yes, at first it was a tad painful viewing the story from her catty viewpoint but with time I gradually grew to like her character and admire the renewed perspective she has after the book’s events transpire. I still felt though that while West set out to tackle the very real issue of validation (as in our generation’s need to rate self worth on a scale of likes, retweets, shares) the subject matter was never fully addressed and still kept an air of superficiality. How about Gia’s love interest? Ehhh, lukewarm. He’s sweet I suppose, and a good foil to Gia’s snotty self in the beginning, but pretty much a duplicate of tried and trued fangirl crushes. Nothing new or revolutionary here, people. A lot of reviewers mentioned how they found his interactions with Gia charming/funny but I never really felt that they had much chemistry, largely stemming from the fact neither had a ton of developed personality to offer up. No swoons, heart pounding, or giggles were emitted from me during the reading of this book. Really the only characters that caused an onset of emotion (and negative at that) were Gia’s family and her so called friends. They’re virtually caricatures meant to make Gia seem all the more worldly and saint-like next to their frivolous actions and trivial emotions. Gia’s parents and brother are so ridiculously contrite, that their overly simplistic, card board dialogue, evoked Hulk like frustration in me. Oh, and those friends? We’re supposed to like two out of three, and despise the third for compromising Gia’s place as the “alpha” of the group (West is also mysteriously fond of wolf analogies throughout), but from my position, as the Girl Scout Daisy song preaches, none of them were really gold or silver worth hanging onto. That’s the problem; in order to feel like Gia has any business lying to Claire and Laney in order to maintain their friendship, you sort of have to think they’re even worth having in your life in the first place. Moral of the story kids; choose your friends wisely.
I know in this review I did a lot of complaining, and it may have seemed like I didn’t enjoy it all that much, but really I did think it was a fun read. Certainly not anything I’d ever recommend, but if this is your type of genre it will certainly deliver. Not an inherently bad book, just suffering from a bit of a dull plot and predictable outcomes to old news young adult tropes. Three out of five stars all the way.