The Stand-in by Lily Chu July 15, 2021 by Audible Originals Contemporary Romance Reviewed by Melinda
I wanted to listen to this audiobook as soon as I heard that Phillipa Soo was narrating this, because I’m a big fan of hers. She did a wonderful job infusing the story with nuance and context.
The book opens with Gracie working in a job she hates, but that she needs to save money to support her elderly mother, who lives in a Residential care facility. Gracie’s been wanting to move her into a better facility, one that’s more expensive but provides better care. At this current job she’s been putting up with an incredibly gross boss, who is essentially sexually harrassing her to the point that he fires her while implying he wouldn’t if there was an exchange…of something.
All of this is the background for the main plot – superstar couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao approach Gracie with a surprising offer of asking her to stand-in for Wei in her public appearances for the next few months. Now, obviously this is an over-the-top suggestion but the set-up was done well enough that I bought it. What sells it for me is how vehemently Sam is against the idea. Sam and Gracie immediately begin to butt heads, and his attitude pushes her over the edge to deciding to go for it and accepts the stand-in job.
I loved so much about this book, but my favorite thing about it is the relationship between Gracie and Wei Fangli. Gracie spends quite a bit of time with Wei in the beginning to understand her mannerisms and the way she moves. As she gets to know her we come to know that the reason she needs a stand-in is that she’s developed massive anxiety in public spaces and she just wants to do her actual job, which is acting. This made me think of Naomi Osaka and her very real anxiety and wanting to just play tennis but not want to do press. This plot point in a relatively unrealistic contemporary struck me as such a good detail that made me believe all of the rest, just like Sam’s resistance. The growing friendship between these two really made the rest of the book shine.
There is a familial subplot between Gracie and Wei that I thought was unnecessary and I didn’t love. I don’t want to spoil that part because it is important but I felt like that entire portion could have been removed and the whole book could still stand on its own.
All of the above and I haven’t even talked about the romance – but I swear it is there. Sam and Gracie begin to connect slowly as they spend more time together in public, and the romance is almost a slow burn. They relate to each other over their cultural connection and the balance between this relationship and Gracie’s friendship with Wei was really well done. The anxiety and depression representation was woven throughout and in different stages – Gracie shares with Sam that she is on medication and that therapy has helped her, and that encourages him to get help for Wei. This, in turn, brings these two closer. I thought that was incredibly sweet and is what sealed this book to be an A grade.
Content Notes: anxiety/panic attacks, past parental death, parental illness/dementia, sexual harassment