Anna was bullied and ridiculed as a child for being fat, nerdy, and Italian. Everything culminated in a horrifying scene at the school’s Mock Rock where Anna was pelted with candy and called names. Anna is now in her 30s, a professor of history at a university. She lost a lot of weight in her 20s and has become not just good-looking, but beautiful. Her past haunts her, so in the name of closure (and a bit of sticking it to them), she goes to her school reunion. No one recognizes her, though, but she runs into James, her school crush and one of her tormentors back in the day. James doesn’t know Anna is THE Anna he tormented through school and Anna lets him believe they’ve never met before, that she has stumbled into the wrong event. After the reunion, they keep running into each other, finding themselves thrown together on work project. They get off to a rocky start, Anna holding the past against him, and James put off by Anna’s inexplicable rudeness towards him. But as they spend more time together, they begin to realize how much they have in common, particularly a sharp wit. With their past, though, it will be a rocky road to happily ever after.
I enjoyed Mhairi McFarlane’s debut and had been putting off reading her second book because the blurb sounded so cliched. A girl loses a ton of weight and is suddenly beautiful and can suddenly land her high school crush? Ugh. Well, yeah, ok, that is the short of it, but McFarlane handles it much more delicately and just better than I ever expected. Anna’s life isn’t perfect when she becomes skinny and beautiful. Being beautiful comes with its own rules, ones Anna never had to learn. And the Anna on the inside is still nerdy, smart, and sarcastic. Love doesn’t come any easier to skinny Anna as it did to fat Anna. James is also not a simplistic character. He’s pretty shallow and vain and is left reeling when his gorgeous wife leaves him for another man. He struggles with coming to terms with the fact that beauty and flash aren’t actually making him a happy person. He, like Anna, also has quite the sense of humor. The banter between James and Anna was one of the best parts of this book, it was funny and cute and really helped make this mismatched couple make sense together. What sounds like an eye-rollingly simplistic and cliched story was actually quite complex and none of the issues were glossed over to make this an easy love story.
My only real trouble with this book was that the ending felt unnecessarily drawn out. Everyone else realizes that Anna and James are in love. Then Anna and James realize they are in love, but there are some complications thrown in (the bullying thing, James’s ex-wife) that keep them from getting together right away. And in the end, they only come together after a grand romantic gesture, which felt a bit out of place for their characters (particularly as they joke about this being a convention in romance novels earlier in the book). None of this was a dealbreaker, it’s all pretty standard stuff for the genre, but I had hoped for more given that most of this book is hell-bent on complicating cliches in romance.
In any case, if you are a fan of smart and funny chick lit, you should definitely give Mhairi McFarlane a try. I, for one, am eagerly anticipating the U.S. release of her latest book, It’s Not Me, It’s You.