Series: Cyclone #1
Published by Self-Published on January 19, 2015
Genres: adult, contemporary
Pages: 279 pages
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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.
Hey, y’all, I have a recent New Adult book to recommend: Courtney Milan’s Trade Me. This is one I’ve been meaning to review forever, but I love Courtney Milan so much, it’s hard for me to put my feelings about her books into words sometimes.
But they’re basically this: only Courtney Milan could make me love a New Adult book about billionaires. And have me anxiously making grabby hands towards the next book in the series, which I am even more excited about. End of 2015, why are you not here yet?!
To be totally fair, Trade Me is about much more than billionaires and/or their secret pain, and that is probably one of the reasons that I liked it so much. When I read a book by Courtney Milan – and I have read them all, because she is one of my favorite authors and I love her, and if you haven’t read her romance series go do that now – I know that it’ll be smart, be centered on a complex female character, and engage with social issues in a meaningful way. (For example, some of the secondary romances are same-sex couples! There’s a romance about women doing scientific research!) And Trade Me definitely does this; one of the reasons it works so well for me, despite being a book about billionaires, is because it asks us to think about what it means for a book to feature a billionaire love interest (i.e., how screwy is the power differential between the hero and heroine). And, more importantly, it keeps Tina front and center in the narrative.
For Trade Me, the premise is as follows: when billionaire tech-company heir Blake Reynolds makes a classist comment in a college seminar, our protagonist Tina Chen, who comes from a lower-income family and is working her way through college, calls him out on it. She challenges him, saying, “Try trading lives with me. You couldn’t manage it, not for two weeks.” While Tina’s just trying to make a point, her words spark something in Blake (who is desperately trying to escape imminent and overwhelming responsibilities, and maybe disappear altogether). Blake approaches Tina with the offer to trade lives: he wants to switch places with her and inhabit her life. As part of this bargain, Tina will help him with an upcoming product launch for a new smart-watch and receive about $50,000 over the course of three months. In return, Blake will live in her place, live off what she does, and treat her life as if it matters. Tina doesn’t want to get sucked into caring about Blake (she has enough problems of her own) and further stipulates that the relationship between them ends when the trade does. Fair enough, and they’re off.
What I liked about this book: oh boy, so much. That doesn’t mean it was perfect – it’s not – but I still loved it. Tina is a great character – she’s smart, she’s determined, she doesn’t put up with Blake’s nonsense, and she loves her family fiercely – and I would happily read more books about her. And while she accepts Blake’s deal because she needs the money, she’s clear at communicating to him that this will never be a real trade: at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, his family, money, and connections will always be there for him. She doesn’t have that luxury. Additionally, I love it when authors build a community around their heroine, and Milan does this: Tina’s family and best friend, Maria, are fleshed-out and complex characters (here’s hoping we get more about Tina’s family in future books; Maria is the protagonist of the next in the series, so I know we’ll see more of her). Finally, I’m a sucker for snappy dialogue, and this book delivers; there is, for example, some seriously funny flirtation around non-disclosure agreements and the product launch that closes the novel had me grinning like a maniac.
My only reservations around the book were mostly centered on the trade itself. Much of the action that takes place during the trade seemed to be around the upcoming Cyclone product launch (and, consequently, Adam and Blake’s relationship). I sort of wanted more about what Tina was up to during the trade independent of Blake? And, in turn, how the trade affected Blake? There’s maybe more telling than showing when it comes to seeing whether or how their deal changes their lives. Additionally, Blake is dealing with a problem – View Spoiler » an undiagnosed eating disorder that involves over-exercising and restricting his food intake « Hide Spoiler – when the book opens, and while this ultimately gets dealt with in a healthy way (he seeks professional help), there were still some things about this that left me feeling unsettled. Here’s the biggest one: View Spoiler » So, Blake offers to trade Tina in the first place because he wants to escape the pressures exerted by his father and by Cyclone. Blake hopes that his problem will “solve itself” while he’s living Tina’s life – of course, this doesn’t happen. Ostensibly he’s using Tina’s life as an escape from his problems – which is problematic enough – but it also seems like there’s some other stuff going on there.
For example, though he promises to not treat her life as if it’s a “back-to-nature serenity camp or a tourism home stay,” there are ways in which – it seems to me – he kind of does. There’s a moment in the story where Blake compares his brief experience of Tina’s life to running an ultra-marathon; he says, “I would resent it, but for me, it’s temporary. For me, this is just another form of an ultra-marathon. It feels difficult. It seems interminable. But I’m doing it to myself, and that makes it bearable in a way it wouldn’t be for her.” On the one hand, he’s acknowledging that his privilege makes his experience of her life totally different, and that despite his desire to trade her and escape his own life, his privilege makes that escape totally impossible. On the other hand, though, I was really troubled by his narrative of the trade as an “ultra-marathon,” when, um, we know that he runs to disappear, and it made me anxious about the extent to which Blake’s trade with Tina is coupled with self-harm or the desire for self-abnegation. Like … that feels like a potentially shitty place to begin a relationship from, especially for Tina, and I didn’t feel like they engaged with this enough. I really wanted more around how Tina felt about him using her life as a way to disappear and/or continue hurting himself. « Hide Spoiler
Despite this, I really liked Trade Me and would recommend it if you’re looking for a New Adult that doesn’t heavily play into some of the tropes of the genre. Tina is an A++ protagonist and I rooted for her the whole way through, I like how the book engages with class privilege, and I loved the humor. Has anyone else read it? If so, what’d you think?
An advance copy was provided by the publisher for this review.