In the YA Diversity Book Club, we chat about the latest YA books that celebrate diversity. Our book club includes Sandie @ Teen Lit Rocks and Kristan @ We Heart YA. Each month we’ll focus on one book with a book review (our discussion chat) and bonus features.
Our March book club pick is Jessica Love’s IN REAL LIFE. This book is about an online friendship that moves into real-life territory. Does the relationship survive when the barriers come down? Are there any hidden truths to uncover? During spring break Hannah and Nick finally get to meet in person, when Hannah embarks on a road trip to Vegas to see Nick’s band perform. Read on to find out more about the book and read our book club discussion. Thanks so much to St. Martin’s Griffin for providing our book club with copies of the book!
About the book:
In Real Life by Jessica Love, Hardcover, 240 pages, St. Martin’s Griffin, March 1.
Hannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since 8th grade. They talk for hours on the phone, regularly shower each other with presents, and know everything there is to know about one another.
There’s just one problem: Hannah and Nick have never actually met.
Hannah has spent her entire life doing what she’s supposed to, but when her senior-year spring-break plans are ruined by a rule breaker, she decides to break a rule or two herself. She impulsively decides to road trip to Vegas, her older sister and BFF in tow, to surprise Nick and finally declare her more-than-friendship feelings for him.
Hannah’s romantic gesture backfires when she gets to Vegas and finds out that Nick has been keeping some major secrets. Hannah knows the real Nick can’t be that different from the online Nick she knows and loves, but now she only has one night in Sin City to figure out what her feelings for Nick really are, all while discovering how life can change when you break the rules every now and then.
Here’s what we thought about IN REAL LIFE:
What were your first impressions of In Real Life?
The Reading Date: Light, cute, fun. Loved the setting and Nick and Hannah’s chemistry.
We Heart YA: Lucy stole the words right out of my mouth, haha!
Teen Lit Rocks: I thought it was sweet, quick romantic read about best-friends-to-more, which is one of my favorite tropes in YA romances.
What first appealed to you about the story- the Las Vegas setting, the roadtrip, the meeting an online friend in real life setup, the romance? And how did the story line up with expectations?
The Reading Date: It all appealed to me. You don’t read too many YA teen roadtrip novels set in Vegas, and that was a nice change of pace. It was interesting to me to see how the “in real life” friendship compared to Hannah/Nick’s online dynamic.
We Heart YA: Yeah, the use of Vegas was great. I’ve been there several times throughout my life (my parents really like it even though they’re not gamblers, lol) and it was neat to see the Strip showcased so well.
The Reading Date: Totally! The fake ID’s made it possible for the group to go to casinos and bars – something you don’t see much in YA!
Teen Lit Rocks: Have you guys read “The Chapel Wars” by Lindsey Leavitt? That was a fun Las Vegas book.
We Heart YA: Hm, no, but I’ve heard good things about her other work!
The Reading Date: Nope, I haven’t read it either but it’s on my list.
We Heart YA: I’m also a sucker for best-friends-who-crush-on-each-other stories. Maybe because I’ve just never been the type to fall for someone I didn’t know pretty well first? Maybe also because there’s usually a lot of physical and emotional tension in those situations. 😉
Teen Lit Rocks: Totally, Kristan. I LOVE best friends to more love stories. I wasn’t sure I would be sympathetic toward his situation, but the way she wrote his characterization, it all made sense.
We Heart YA: Yeah, this book lacked the depth and artfulness of, say, a Stephanie Perkins novel, but I did understand and sympathize with Nick.
Things don’t exactly turn out the way Hannah hopes when she meets Nick in person the first time. Were you surprised by the Las Vegas reveals? Have you had similar experiences when you met online friends in real life?
The Reading Date: I was waiting for the other shoe to drop when I read in the synopsis that Nick was keeping secrets. And I was partly surprised with the reveal.
We Heart YA: I totally called a couple of the secrets (the band-related ones) but I have to admit, Frankie took me by surprise.
Teen Lit Rocks: Like I said above, I didn’t know what to make of/was worried about the reveal. I felt awful for Hannah, and I’m not a fan of stories where teens “cheat,” but somehow the author made everything work in a believable way.
We Heart YA: Yeah they walked the line…
The Reading Date: I haven’t had a similar situation where the in person vs. online friend was keeping something from me. I guess that when a lie goes on for so long it’s hard to come clean. Plus, Hannah really caught Nick off guard by surprising him like that.
We Heart YA: “I guess that when a lie goes on for so long it’s hard to come clean.” Good point. I definitely ran into that as a little kid. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to value honesty and openness and direct communication, so the way Hannah and Nick wishy-washy-ed around each other drove me a little bonkers.
The Reading Date: Yes! I was thinking, now she’s going to tell him FINALLY but then she’d run again.
Teen Lit Rocks: It’s particularly infuriating because as a reader you know things will turn out alright, but at the same time, there has to be all the tension for the story to continue. I wanted to throttle both of them and yell: “Just tell each other and kiss — NOW!”
This book features a diverse cast. The protagonist Hannah is Korean American and her best friend Lo is Mexican American. Did you feel the portrayal of these characters was authentic? Did this novel broaden your perspective in some way?
We Heart YA: So, I didn’t feel like these characters were bad portrayals of diversity… I felt more like they were non portrayals? I dunno. Other than their names, nothing really gave me a distinct flavor. Which in some ways is fine — we absolutely need more “incidental” diversity, where it’s not the point or focus of a story. But it’s also disappointing in some ways, because I think culture shows up subtly in small details of our daily lives (like craving noodles as comfort food instead of pizza, for example) and that nuance was lacking here.
The Reading Date: I agree. I appreciate the diverse characters but I guess I wanted a little more culture as well.
Teen Lit Rocks: Yeah, there are a few little moments where it is clear that Hannah is Korean and Lo is Latina, but there isn’t much beyond their names and a couple of references to their parents. That’s fine, I guess, but I wish there had been a little more.
What did you think of the character development? Any characters particularly stand out to you in a good or bad way?
We Heart YA: I thought Grace and Lo were terrible friends. I would have been so unbelievably pissed at them, if I were in Hannah’s shoes.
The Reading Date: It was weird that they encouraged her and seemed to have her back at the beginning and then totally took off!
Teen Lit Rocks: It really bothered me too, because despite all the girls, the book barely passes the Bechdel Test, because most of the time they are just talking about Nick, Alex, guys, etc.
We Heart YA: Oohh, good point!
The Reading Date: So true!
We Heart YA: I also never understood why Nick and Alex were always upset with each other. It wasn’t important to the story, yet it got mentioned so often and just never made sense to me.
The Reading Date: I guess it was just supposed to be sibling rivalry?
We Heart YA: I guess…? Frankie was really interesting to me, though. She’s the ultimate cool girl, but she wasn’t portrayed as snobby. And she was a good foil to Hannah.
The Reading Date: Frankie was really nice and cool and it didn’t seem like she deserved to be treated that way. If Nick was so private and bothered by her blog then he shouldn’t have stayed with her for so long.
Teen Lit Rocks: Like Hannah makes clear, it’s hard to dislike Frankie, because she’s cool but sweet and is genuinely into Nick. Plus, she knew all about Hannah, so the situation felt uneven. In the end, I’m glad she was the one who decided certain things about her career and their relationship, because Nick seemed so wishy-washy even though it’s clear as a reader who his real love is!
We Heart YA: You know, at first I felt like Frankie made the “wrong” choice, but now you’re making me wonder if it’s not a little bit awesome that she stayed true to herself and also chose her career (for lack of a better word) over a high school romance.
What did you think of the friendships in this story?
The Reading Date: It seemed at the beginning that Hannah’s sister Grace and her friend Lo would really have her back in Vegas, but they really ended up doing their own thing. Hannah did need some tough love because she was always running away from her problems though. I would have liked more scenes with the friends in the story.
We Heart YA: Yeah, I mean, see my answer above, right? I don’t care how much they thought Hannah needed to learn to handle stuff on her own; they went about it in a completely rude way, IMO.
The Reading Date: Agreed. The friendships were a little lacking for me.
Teen Lit Rocks: I think Grace and Lo made some important points; I would’ve been frustrated with Hannah too. But they really let Hannah down when it came down to it, all for boys. It seemed like they cared more about hooking up than being there for Hannah, and that made me sad on Hannah’s behalf.
We Heart YA: The boy friendships (like between the band members) felt more believable and healthy to me. Even Jordy turned out to be all right in the end.
What did you think of the romance/love triangle?
The Reading Date: Mixed emotions!
We Heart YA: Ditto. I was glad that Frankie was so likable, and that both Nick and Hannah tried not to cross the line. Hannah even gave Frankie some pretty good, genuine advice at the end there.
The Reading Date: Frankie wasn’t a good fit for Nick but he should have come clean about her to Hannah earlier. Even though it was such a surprise visit! I was rooting for Hannah and Nick all along and thought the Frankie wrinkle was unfortunate.
Teen Lit Rocks: I admire that she made Frankie so likable, because another author would’ve taken the easy way by making her obviously fake or unlikable. I usually HATE love triangles, and I know some readers will not be able to “get over” what Nick does to both girls by concealing things, but I still rooted for Nick and Hannah, so clearly the author did a good job of making their connection real and worth fighting for!
Speaking of the romance – this one is of the “friendship to more” type and starts out as a longterm online friendship. What other books would you recommend to readers that enjoy these types of stories?
The Reading Date: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda definitely came to mind.
We Heart YA: There’s no online component, but elements of this story reminded me of ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS.
The Reading Date: ANNA is a good comparison. Agree that this would appeal to Stephanie Perkins fans.
Teen Lit Rocks: Definitely ANNA. I particularly thought of the part when Anna was back home and complaining to Etienne that her friend and crush have gotten together, and she wonders if she’s attractive. He keeps making it clear that she’s beautiful and any hetero guy would find her attractive. I like SIMON as a read-a-like too.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Teen Lit Rocks: I breezed through this book and thought it was a fun romance about falling for the person who knows you best.
The Reading Date: This book was a nice change of pace from our usual book club choices! A nice and breezy romance overall.
We Heart YA: Totally agree. I also think this could make a really fun film!
Further Reading – Books mentioned in this post:
Be sure to check out all the book club features to read more about IN REAL LIFE:
- Sandie from Teen Lit Rocks shares a “Q&A with Jessica Love“
- Kristan from We Heart YA shares “#YADBC: Las Vegas IN REAL LIFE“
Hope you’ll read-along with us in April as we discuss FIFTEEN LANES by S.J. Laidlaw.
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