Map to the Stars, by Jen Malone

I don’t read a lot of YA romance novels.

Let me clarify: I read a lot of YA books that have romance in them, and I’ve written flirty, romantic sequences in my own books. I tend to gravitate more towards books that have something else (a contemporary issue or a fantasy/speculative/magical-realism element) driving the story with the romance being a subplot. Jen Malone’s Map to the Stars very well may be the first strictly YA romance novel I’ve ever read. After all, I’m a forty-something-year-old man and thus probably not the target audience.

I picked up a copy for my Kindle on the strength of the humor in the first chapter when it was read by the author at that event I mentioned in these previous three reviews. My daughters found the notion of a movie star getting a facial of nightingale poop to be utterly hysterical. And it is. The Hollywood satire peppered throughout the book made me laugh heartily enough to overcome occasional eye-rolls at main character Annie’s early waffling back and forth regarding her feelings for teen heartthrob Graham Cabot.

So here’s the basic plot: Annie’s mother has moved her out to L.A. (from a small town in Georgia) to be a stylist to the stars, and they get assigned to Graham Cabot’s worldwide promotional tour for his latest movie. Back home, Annie’s best friend Wynn is a huge Graham Cabot fangirl, but Annie’s first run-in with him is a total disaster. She lumps him together with all the other Hollywood phonies, he flirts a little, she flirts back but questions his motives, he turns out to be a really sweet guy. Romance ensues.

Okay, so maybe there are some signs of the “dreaded” insta-love going on, but you know what? Big deal! I was a teenager once, and I remember getting tingles if a pretty girl innocently and platonically touched my arm, and I remember suddenly deciding I loved them. And I know girls feel that way too—I had enough female friends that at one point wrote out their names with their crush’s last name attached. Insta-attraction—or better yet, insta-interest—happens in the real world. Love—all emotions—are irrational. Teens—well, most people—behave irrationally at times. And this is a fun story of two teens—one that’s normal but skeptical and one that’s airbrushed but sheltered and seeking normalcy—finding each other and just trying to have fun and do the things teens do.

Teens make mistakes, and Annie and Graham make some big ones along the way. Because he’s in the spotlight, being seen in public with a regular girl could harm his image. Or it could alienate his fan base of tween and teen girls that want to be writing his last name after theirs. That’s the main conflict for about the second half of the book, and it was fun watching them try to have a relationship, even though I correctly predicted the consequences they’d face.

Annie and Graham are likeable enough leads, and the book has a solid supporting cast. Though Wynn’s appearances are limited to emails and video chats, she’s well developed and a lot of fun. Bodyguard Roddy, who’s in on the couple’s ruses, has some nice hidden layers to him. Annie’s mom is well-balanced between supportive and overprotective, and her producer-friend Joe is an absolute riot whenever he appears.

The book is filled with pop culture references, as it should be when partially satirizing Hollywood and online-trending, but they don’t stick to one particular era. Some have stood or will stand the test of time, but some others are contemporary that may not. And some of them were from when I was a teen, including a Grease 2 reference that I didn’t quite believe both characters would get.

There’s no surprise that there’s a HEA ending, as that’s required for the genre, but I found it ironic after all the Hollywood satirizing that the ending was so Hollywood-ized. The only thing missing from the typical Hollywood-made teen romantic comedy ending was someone in the crowd starting a slow clap.

Overall, the satire is funny, the characters are fun, their chemistry is believable, and the ending is satisfying. No new ground is broken, but there’s nothing wrong with comfort food (like the cookies Annie’s Mom bakes), and this is an enjoyable, funny, light read. No map necessary for it to find its FOUR STARS.

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Map to the Stars is available at Amazon.

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