Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “You can’t treat girlfriends like props, brother. Not even fake girlfriends.”
Meet Oakley Ford.
Nineteen-year-old heartthrob and celebrity pop star Oakley Ford is ready to make the leap to a serious musician but his antics on and off the stage has made him persona non grata among record producers. He wants the very best to produce his next album but unless he cleans up his act, it’s a no go. His manager decides what Oakley needs is an image overhaul and the first step is finding him a noncelebrity, all-American girlfriend.
Meet Vaughn Bennett.
Vaughn is a seventeen-year-old waitress who is helping to raise her two younger siblings with her older sister Paisley. She graduated high school early and put off college to help out when their parents were killed in a car accident. When she is first approached to pose as Oakley’s faux girlfriend, she says no. That is until she finds out the obscene amount of money they will pay her. Money that will take the financial burden off Paisley and set up her brothers’ college funds. Of course, she will have to get rid of her own boyfriend and learn to hide her dislike of Oakley. It’s only for a year and it’s not like they are going to fall in love for real.
From their first meeting, Oakley and Vaughn lock horns and butt heads. As their prickly animosity grows into a heady attraction, Oakley and Vaughn will discover a lot about themselves and each other.
Right before I started When It’s Real, I read an article about Harry Styles and how his new supposed girlfriend (food blogger Tess Ward) was being ripped to shreds by 1D fans. I remember thinking what the hell is wrong with these people? Why would they set out to make this person feel terrible and how hard it must be for her to read the awful things they are saying. Watt addresses this behavior and young celebrities in general and makes you wonder how much of what we see and hear is real and how much isn’t.
“Are you talking about April Showers? That was fake? Oh man, I believed in ShOak. My childhood dreams are crushed.”
When It’s Real is a standalone YA romance contemporary that offers up a cute and amusing story of self-discovery and growth when a teenage celebrity falls for a young woman who isn’t impressed by him or his fame. It had a bit of a Pride and Prejudice vibe to it which I enjoyed. Watt takes an antagonistic relationship and slowly turns it into something wonderfully real between our protagonists. They focus on love, loss, and choices; showing us two teenagers who were forced into adulthood and the different ways they’ve dealt with it.
I’ve drunk, smoked, ingested and experienced nearly everything the world has to offer in the past five years. Am I already the washed up pop star before I hit my twenties?
The story is pretty straight forward. The trope is predictable though the journey is entertaining. Heavily character driven, the lack of drama and ridiculous antics give us real people with real issues. They are easy to relate to. Their joys, fears, wants, and needs are laid bare and we are allowed to experience with them the everyday growing pains of life. Told in dual narrative, the execution flows smoothly and the dialogue is appealing. We are never left to guess at our protagonists’ emotions and thoughts. They are refreshingly honest with one another and themselves.
“You realise there are millions of girls out there who would kill to be sitting beside me right now?”
“Yeah? Then why are you paying me to do it?”
I enjoyed meeting Vaughn and Oakley. Both are intelligent, hard working, snarky teenagers who act like teenagers. Vaughn has a little bit of a drama queen in her that manifests during stress while Oakley just tends to act out when upset. Their chemistry builds slowly, fueling the romance and we get to enjoy the show. Watt doesn’t use tired cliches or insta love to facilitate this romance. Their evolution from enemies to friends to lovers is slow and steady, requiring this couple to spend time together getting past their respective negative first impressions to discover their connection.
“You’re the one person in my life who wants nothing but me and it’s terrifying and awesome at the same time. Don’t ever leave me.”
Solid secondary characters round out the story. Vaughn’s family is an integral part of the story, offering a lifeline to Oakley and Vaughn to cling to in their quest to find common ground. Oakley’s staff maintain a solid presence and reveal all how invasive and intrusive. We have the users, abusers and jealous exes to add a little spice to the story. An enjoyable secondary romance blossoms behind the scenes and after the one and only real bout of over the top melodrama, we are left with a satisfactory HFN.
I will admit I did have a couple of issues I couldn’t overlook. Vaughn’s boyfriend was a glaring plot device and I admit I was shocked he wasn’t utilized more to create conflict. I also had an issue with Vaughn and her drunken misstep. Her actions were out of character, her explanation was weak, and Oakley’s instant acceptance was odd. It felt very out of place in the storyline.
While When It’s Real isn’t a dramatic or high energy ride, it is an enjoyable lightweight read that will appeal to those who prefer more a sweeter laid back romance.