Last week I posted a note to remind everyone about the release of Trade Me.
This is the actual review.
Trade Me, by Courtney Milan
In case you missed it: this is a contemporary new adult novel, told in present tense first person, with alternating points of view from both main characters.
Trade Me is also the first of at least three, but perhaps–please, please, please!–five novels written around Cyclone Systems, a made up, and massive, technology company that sits quite near the top of that food chain. The books, though, are about people.
Considering how incredibly picky I am about first person narrative and young protagonists, this should not have event tempted me, let alone worked for me.
But a) this is Courtney Milan and so far everything she writes works for me on one level or another, and b) holy shit, these two kids grabbed me by the throat so quickly and just would not let me go.
may be is gushing ahead. Also, please note that I got this book as an ARC, though I’ve never been asked to write anything but my honest opinion.
Here’s the blub:
Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Systems. But when he makes an offhand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.
To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.
But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.
The excerpt available on Ms Milan’s site is from the very first chapter, and shows you immediately that these young people are anything but shallow.
Tina Chen–one of the many, many Tina Chens of this world–has worked most of her life to try and keep her family safe, together, functioning. She’s has a goal in life, and that is to make enough money after college that she can be sure, absolutely sure, that her family won’t be evicted for lack of rent. That if her mother is fired from Walmart, they’ll be able to eat. That her sister will never have to make do without her medications for ADHD.
Tina doesn’t have time to be distracted by a pretty, privileged all-American boy, who knows nothing of her life, and who exists in a completely different universe from hers.
Blake Reynolds is the one and only son of Adam Reynolds, founder, majority owner, and driving force behind Cyclone Systems. Blake himself is very smart, socially gifted, and so wealthy he has never even gone grocery shopping. Ever. He also “has a problem,” and a very complicated relationship with his father, his privilege, and his life.
On the face of it, Tina is in the worse position of the two. Her life is so very, very hard–when she talks to her mother, and thinks, “I don’t want a lot out of life. I just want enough money to love without being tangled up about it”–my heart contracted. That whole conversation? It physically hurt.
But Blake is drowning under expectations–from his father, the company, the world–and doesn’t even know how to ask for space to breathe. Because hey, a kid as privileged as himself, can’t have really serious issues in life. Honestly now, what could there possibly be in his life that anyone would consider a problem?
Have you ever read something, and it hits you so hard and so deeply, you have to stop reading? Just put it aside for a bit, try to stop thinking about the damn thing, to breathe, to get your feelings back under control. To give yourself time to get back on an even keel and absorb what you are reading.
All the while, what you really want to do is inhale it, skim full speed ahead. But you know you can’t because you need to allow yourself to actually feel. You must savor it all–the angst, the fear, the secrets, the full complexity of the characters and their circumstances.
It matters not one whit that the premise is absurd.
A billion-point-four-aire offering to trade places with a first generation American who has a total of $15 dollars in her checking account, and more worries than individual hair follicles in her entire body? Because he is trying to escape his own paralyzing, anxiety ridden life?
Within a chapter, I was lost in this story, because regardless of the utter implausibility of the premise, the characters are real people. Complex and afraid, sometimes angry, sometimes so close to completely losing their shit, all the while knowing they can’t afford to lose their shit. Because life is not a sitcom, and that the things that you break when you can’t deal with life don’t get fixed within 22 minutes.
I absolutely love that Ms Milan doesn’t gloss over the minutiae of trading lives for a few weeks–lawyers are consulted and there are contracts, insurance, money transfers, and non disclosure agreements to sign.
I love that these characters are very much young adults–social media and pop culture are very much part of how they communicate with each other and relate to the world. Technology and gadgets are very much part of the story, what with Cyclone Systems, etc. Things like texting, Facebook, blogging and the like are integrated into the narrative in a way that, once more, ground the characters and the story firmly into the present and the setting. These are young adults, after all.
I love that the people around Tina and Blake exist on their own, and not just to provide a background for the main characters’ conflicts with themselves, with each other, and with all the people in their lives. The importance, the weight and impact that those relationships–with their families, with their friends, with the people who make up their respective communities–have on the main characters and on each other is beautifully drawn.
Love is complicated. Life is a very scary thing. Fear can be crippling–and comforting. Love and guilt can be so intertwined in a person’s soul as to become the same thing.
Ms Milan captures all of these messy emotions and relationships, and weaves them into a wonderful story.
Trade Me gets a 9.50 out of 10
I can barely wait for María López’ story, and I’m hoping we do get Adam Reynolds’ as well at some point.
Also, if you need a bit more information on the plot, this joint review at the SmartBitches reveals a few spoilers that may sway some potential readers towards–or against–this novel.