The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich marks the beginning of our summer bonus blog series: Mary and Emily's Summer YA Book Club. Since we're both students in a PhD program, we thought it would be nice to spend the summer with a few fun Young Adult new releases. We'll be casually reading these books and casually sharing our thoughts with you. Please read along if, like us, you need a break from the heavy reading during the summer months. Here are our books for the series:
1. End of May: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich
2. End of June: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
3. End of July: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
4. End of August: The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon
Check out our review of our first book after the cut, and please let us know your thoughts about the book in the comments section, if you read it as well!
Mary: So The Love Interest is a fairly recent young adult book by Cale Dietrich. It follows the story of Caden, a teen raised by the LIC--a mysterious group that seeks to plant "love interests" in the lives of very important people in order to spy on them. This sounds like a far fetched premise--which we can talk about later--but it really works considering the tone of the book is tongue in cheek. It makes fun of the genre of YA as a whole, I'd say.
Emily: It does, and yet, there are a lot of tonal shifts throughout the book which we can talk about as well. The book is broken up into three parts: The Love Interest, Antagonist, and Protagonist,
And I felt like each section had a very different feel.
Mary: Definitely--but they still managed to feel fairly uniform to me. They're all from Caden's perspective and they're all told from the same POV. It's a nice way to break the books up into acts, so to speak. What did you think in general? You were the one who encouraged me to pick up this book and I'm glad you did.
Emily: Well, probably because the premise is so outlandish, I was expecting something a little more farcical. There were definitely moments where it poked fun of other YA books. As a Harry Potter fanatic, I especially appreciated the line, "If Cho Chang can make it to the Battle of Hogwarts, then we can get through this." But it definitely took a different direction than what I was expecting. I was not AT ALL interested in the third act of the book, which turns the plot into like an action movie YA version of the Terminator or something. But I was enjoying it up until that point. What did you think?
Mary: Ugh, same! I felt really disengaged with Act III and just wanted to finish at that point.
Emily: Yeah, the whole "take down the evil corporation" plot is played out, and we know how it ends.
Mary: BUT, I really appreciate this book. The big twist, if we can call it that, is that the two love interests competing for Juliet (a scientist girl who, I guess, will maybe invent something one day?) fall in love with each other. It's rare to have a book about queer identity that isn't JUST about that, or that isn't seamless in the process of self discovery. Let's be real, teens don't know who they are yet, and I appreciated the process Caden and Dyl went through to determine they actually wanted to be together. It wasn't just a, "oh here we both are so let's make out" situation. Books like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe and The Miseducation of Cameron Post and (O God) Rainbow Boys, have all left me bored and sad, but The Love Interest, despite its cliches and poor writing at times, seems to have the love story as a feature, but not the only thing going on--and I like that! I have a lot of thoughts on queer YA lit. Hahaha.
Emily: So I'm checking out Cale Dietrich's Twitter right now, and I believe this is his first book. His bio says he "writes pop punk songs in YA novel format" and he's an Aussie! (Deep author research right here)
Mary: Oh wow! I like that. For a first book I think this one is doing a lot of great things.
Emily: For sure. I was thinking a lot about the author as I read this. Not in a bad way. But it definitely felt like he was trying to get a message across. Especially about how queer characters are treated in YA fiction. Like when Juliet finds out Caden is gay and starts treating him differently, and Caden feels offended.
Mary: Aaaah right, and even before that she suspected he was gay. At least to begin with. And he felt offended by that too--and scared for his life since the consequences of failing to woo her ARE DEAAATH.
Emily: So in the end, the big bad boss of the bad corporation tells Caden if he'd only told them he was gay they would have found him a better partner. Do we believe that? Is there a gay Love Interest Quadrant?
Mary: No way. I mean I want to believe that.
Emily: Because gay people aren't allowed to have the same kind of stories?
Mary: That maybe like, Anderson Cooper would get a Love Interest
Emily: I have to assume that SOME important people are gay, right? In the context of this world?
Mary: Right, that is the big Message I think. Other YA books suggest gay characters are just side characters. They don't have big romances. But that's what makes the book interesting to me--it's saying no, gay characters do have important things going on, they can't be stereotyped, and they deserve to have books about them. At the same time, it's acknowledging that when you're young it's not always easy to draw a hard line on sexuality. Dyl is not truly into Caden at first.
Emily: I think we should discuss the female Love Interest in the novel as well. And by that, I don't mean Juliet, the girl Dyl and Caden are fighting over. I mean there is another character, Juliet's best friend Natalie, who is also revealed to be a Love Interest from the LIC.
Mary: Aaaah Natalie.
Emily: I was really excited by that development, but a little disappointed we didn't learn more about that side.
Mary: Definitely. I wanted to know what the girls learned!
Emily: Like, if the male love interest tropes are "Nice" and "Bad," what are the equivalents for women?
Mary: Sexy and modest?
Emily: And which one is Natalie?
Mary: She really isn't any set stereotype. She's pretty but she also seems smart. Not that those are mutually exclusive IRL.
Emily: I liked how she shows a different way the Love Interest plot can go, because she actually did fall in love with the boy she was targeting.
Mary: She did! It was tender.
Emily: Tender in a making out with each other in front of your friends kind of way. But alright.
Mary: Hahaha fair enough. I would have slapped them.
Emily: Yeah also they dressed up like The Fault in Our Stars' Hazel and Gus for that party,
and we all know I hate that book.
Mary: I wonder though--maybe we don't find out about the girls of the LIC because (going out on a limb here) Dietrich is gay? It seems like some gay men are not interested in women at all, even on a surface level. That might not be fair of me to say, but the gay men I have personally known have been some of the most misogynistic.
Emily: Yeah, maybe, but Dietrich seemed really interested in pointedly showing that Juliet was a really great girl who deserved someone who loved her. And they both definitely had respect for her, even though they did a terrible thing to her.
Mary: That's true, and they want to be friends with her.
Emily: She came off as a substantial human being, I mean.
Mary: Tbh Juliet is too good for them.
Emily: Yeah and I think they even kind of say that.
Mary: I love Juliet.
Emily: She was way too smart for either of them.
Emily: And it kinda broke my heart that when she found out the truth, she was like, "I should have known it was too good to be true. No one's ever shown an interest in me romantically before."
Mary: Ah, but I feel that so hard! I felt genuinely sympathetic for her. It was maybe one of the most impactful moments for me.
Emily: Aw, don't make me cry. Now I'm kinda eyeing my fiancé like... ARE YOU A LOVE INTEREST?
Mary: Hahaha! Yes! Ben is totally a plant.
Emily: But then I realize I'm not important. I'm poor and stupid.
Mary: You are important!
Emily: You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
Mary: Maybe Pea is the Love Interest.
Mary: He learned all the best ways to be cute, but he's a Bad so he bites a little to keep you interested.
Emily: He really did. He went to "cute eye contact and head tilt" lessons.
Emily: Bad kitty!
Mary: I did love how moves to impress girls were analyzed. Hurt guys are hot. Hahaha.
Emily: I mean, they weren't wrong.
Mary: Nah, they were right, which is why it's so funny. I gave this book 4/5 stars on Goodreads because, while I loved it, it just didn't do anything for me on a writing level, and it fell a little flat at the end, but I would definitely suggest it as a fun summer read, or to someone who is looking for more positive representations of queer characters.
Emily: Yes, it was definitely a fun summer read. A great start to our YA Summer Book Club (TM).
Mary: Yes! This is going to be a great summer of YA books
Emily: I would give it a 4/5 too. Some of the dialogue was like... gimme a break, but overall, the first 2/3 of the book was so unique and fun that I give it a pass.
Mary: I also rolled my eyes from Dyl's description going from big beefy bad boy to thin wounded baby.
Emily: Oh god I HATED that he went by "Dyl."
Mary: But it makes him unique! Bahahaha
Emily: If he told me to call him "Dyl," I woulda been like, "Nope, you're Dylan." And that's why he would never date me.
Mary: I thought of Dil from Rugrats. Baby Dil.
Emily: I can't even remember who that is. I thought it was Phil and Lil.
Mary: It's Tommy's little bro who can't talk. He was a later addition to that 90's gem.
Emily: JESUS CHRIST too many babies!
Mary: So many!
And that's it for our first month of our Summer YA Book Club. We hope you'll read The Love Interest and let us know what you think!
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The authors of this blog are four women with opinions about pop culture. That's all you really need to know.