Thursday, April 23, 2015

New Adult vs New Adult: ATTRACTION by Penny Reid and UNDECLARED by Jen Frederick

After successfully avoiding new adult books for well on three years, this month I somehow found myself reading two nearly back-to-back: Attraction by Penny Reid (which is actually the first volume in a serial), and Undeclared by Jen Frederick. I read Attraction because it was by Penny Reid and I didn't realize it was NA; I read Undeclared because it's by Jane Little of Dear Author and I was naturally curious as to what one of her books would be like.

On the surface, both of these novels are really similar: both heroines are college virgins who aren't very confident or sociable, and who've been harboring a tendre for an unattainable alpha male. They each also have a fashion-conscious, not-virginal roommate who dresses them and tries to get them to socialize more. And both feature sororities and fraternities and in some way address socio-economic disparities in a university setting.

And they're both okay reads with some problems.

attraction penny reid
Let's start with Attraction. Kaitlyn Parker is a slightly neurotic, super-geek science girl who has nothing in common with totally dreamy frat king and captain of the row team, Martin, aside from two things: one, they both come from famous parents. And two, they're lab partners in chemistry class. Kait is attracted to Martin, but she's not going to let him know that because he's a jerk and there's no way he could possibly be interested in her, anyway. When she overhears one of his frat bros plotting to drug and blackmail him, however, she decides to warn him and ends up invited to his private island house party over Spring Break. Will Martin be able to convince Kaitlyn he's not all jerkface before Spring Break's over? And will Kaitlyn get him to help her finish their assignment? Questions!

I loved the beginning of Attraction. It pulled me into the story right away. Why is Kaitlyn hiding in a closet? Who are these people plotting against her lab partner? Will she be able to stop them? I also loved Kaitlyn because, hellooo, quirky heroine; and her interactions with her roommate, Sam, were so funny. If this book had been entirely about Sam and Kaitlyn, I would have been happy.

But then. Martin Sandeke shows up. And he is cartoonishly alpha. I've read paranormal romances with werewolves who were less territorial. He doesn't seem to have any personality aside from bossing people around, and Kaitlyn's attraction to him seems inexplicable because it's based entirely on how he looks. Since I can't see what he looks like, I'm not amenable to relying solely on his physical attributes as the justification for their coming together. Some of the scenes with him were super cheesy, and I started getting impatient with Kaitlyn's tolerance of his completely unreasonable behavior.

I was also frustrated because, while I really liked that Reid brought up the sexism and privilege that's part of some (most? I honestly know nothing about fraternities or sororities) frat houses, she only just brought it up and didn't address it, if that makes sense. Like: Oh yeah, these rich white boys don't think you or anyone else is human and you're just there for their amusement. Now let's talk about how hot Martin is! Huh?

Overall I wanted Attraction to feel like it was more grounded in reality. And the cliffhanger at the end was a killer. I'll probably read the rest of the serial, but not until it's all been published.

undeclared jen frederick
In Undeclared (what is it with the one-word titles?), Grace spent most of high school carrying on an affair-via-letter with a Marine named Noah. But when Noah got out of the Marines, he friendzoned her and she's spent the last two years trying to get over it. Now Noah is attending the same university and is ready for them to be more than friends. Will Grace learn to trust him again?

Like Attraction, Undeclared started off pretty good. I liked that Noah and Grace knew one another through letters and that some of the letters were included. I also liked that Noah was an ex-Marine, even though he didn't act very Marine-y to me. But whatever.

As the novel went on, though, I started getting bored. I didn't feel any chemistry between Grace and Noah, and there wasn't a lot of verve or humor the story. But when Undeclared really lost me was when it was revealed that Noah's big dream was to buy a self-serve frozen yogurt store.


fascinating gif

So random. At no point previously in the book did he mention anything about frozen yogurt. Then the owner of the froyo place calls out of the blue to tell him he needs to come up with $10k immediately if he wants to match a counter-offer on the store. His reaction is to completely lose his shit and go into panic mode, setting up an illegal kick boxing fight where he can potentially make 10k. Ummm, it's frozen yogurt. Pretty sure a better opportunity is going to show up at some point. Anyway, he beats the guy senseless and gets his money, and neither frozen yogurt nor buying the store is ever mentioned again. I kept hoping he'd be arrested for assault and sent to prison before he had a chance to have sex with Grace, but no such luck. The last fifty pages of Undeclared were a haul; I felt like they sucked up months of my life.

I might have wanted Attraction to be more realistic, but even with the sense of total fantasy and Martin's crazy behavior, I think Reid put a lot of thought into her characters and their stories and what they want, whereas Frederick's characterizations were really shallow. Martin's alpha male behavior might have been OTT, but at least it wasn't boring, and it did seem like he and Kaitlyn were developing a connection. I feel like Reid really took some chances and had fun with her book, whereas Frederick's story felt uncreative in comparison. To be fair, it is her first book, and it's not at all terrible, but I was expecting more passion.

While I definitely think Attraction is better than Undeclared, I'm glad I read Undeclared because it made me appreciate Attraction more. Annnd I think I've just talked myself into pre-ordering the next book in Reid's serial, Heat.

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