Unless you're still a child, you probably remember what it was like to be an eighteen year old.
Talk about a confusing time, am I right? You're done with the legally required portion of your education, which is something that has been a very regular, very integral part of your life for at least 13 years. You're no longer "forced" into the proximity of your friends every day, and know that you'll lose touch with so many of the people that you can't begin to picture your life without. You won't admit it, but your brain still isn't fully formed and you're still becoming who you're going to be while also still being driven so much more by emotions than logic. You're not a child anymore, but (often, not always) you're still beholden to your parents in some way--either they still have expectations and rules for what you can and can't do, or you wish they'd care enough to give you a second glance.
Yeah, if you can't tell, Frenemies with Benefits by Lydia Sharp brought up some feels for me!
Jess Webster is about to graduate high school when she gets THE news: her beloved older brother Chris got a volunteering job in Cambodia and can't make it to graduation, BUT he'll be home in July with his hot friend Andrew in tow. And they're staying in Jess and Chris' parents house for a month and a half. You know, the same house Jess lives in. She's crushed on Andrew for years, and this could finally be her opportunity to make him see her as more than just Chris' dorky little sister. Well, that is if she can stop herself from doing nothing but awkwardly gurgling every time Andrew so much as glances her way. Jess is, tragically (in her opinion) still a virgin, and has no idea how to act around a crush...especially when the boy she has her eye on is older and (she assumes) much more experienced than she is. At lunch on the last day of school, she's venting about her predicament to her bestie, Rayna, when Jess' frenemy, Ben Oliver, overhears everything. He sarcastically (Jess thinks) offers to give her "lessons." He'll teach her, for lack of better words, how to sex, so that she can use her newfound knowledge, and confidence, to seduce Andrew when he gets to town.
Jess is just desperate enough to take Ben up on his offer...mostly because she has eyes and can admit that even though they hate each other, Ben is smoking hot and she could definitely do worse--and she needs the help.
As you can guess, and as with any fake dating story, it gets messy fast. Feelings start getting involved, but are they real, or is it just the sizzling physical spark that is undeniable between Jess and Ben?
I enjoyed this book, but had a few issues with it as well. It was a very cute YA coming of age story, and also one that I feel is very important. Lydia Sharp, at the beginning of the book, leaves a note to her readers that talks about her curiosity, utter lack of knowledge about, and her embarrassment relating to sex when she was a teenager. She, like so many readers, didn't have a maternal figure that was comfortable talking about sex with her, and most of her friends were already having sex. She talks about how her options were clinical definitions of sex you'd find in reference books or on Google, or wildly fantastical romance novels--neither of which paints the most accurate picture of what the experience of sex is like. That was, until she found Forever by Judy Blume. It was a book written from a teenaged perspective, but that gave her clearer, more realistic idea of what she could expect from having sex. Writing this book, for Lydia, was a way to offer teenagers now what she needed then: an age-appropriate tale that shows the importance of both consent and safe sex, that there should be no shame in consensual sex, that it's okay and perfectly right to be in control of your own sex life, and that virginity is nothing to be ashamed of either. In that way, I thought this book was absolutely beautiful--it gives younger readers that feel like that don't have anywhere to turn for knowledge, a place to go. Something to read that gives them an example of how it should always be, even if your life isn't a YA novel.
I also really loved the dynamic between Jess and her mother, as it showcases that mother daughter relationships don't have to be perfect to be perfect.
[Please be aware, the following paragraph will have minor plot spoilers.]
I loved Jess and Ben's relationship, even when they hated each other. I don't like the "he's mean to you because he likes you" idea, because it teaches young people to accept poor behavior...and thankfully, this was NOT the case in Frenemies with Benefits. Jess and Ben, as you learn later in the book, just started off on the wrong foot and mutually disliked each other. And that's okay! Relationships evolve, and I thought that seeing that on the page was lovely. I did not, however, like how fickle Jess could be about things. Ben is the son of the town mayor, and apparently mega rich. At one point, he buys Jess a huge box of nail polish as it's an inside joke between them. Jess loses it, because he spent money on her knowing that her family is what she considers to be poor; she doesn't want to be beholden to Ben, or have people think they're "dating" only because she wants him to spend money on her. Then, within a few chapters, she's letting him take her on a lavish shopping spree for six pairs of designer shoes? It just...didn't make sense to me. On top of that, so many of the characters have more money than sense, and more money than I think would be reasonable for teenagers to have. For example, there is a non-school dance formal event that the friend group consisting of eighteen year olds all need to attend, so they go to a luxury bridal shop to look for gowns. Jess, who again, is poor, balks at the price tag, but her best friend, Rayna, doesn't spare the price a second glance and tells Jess to relax, that Ben will pay for it. Y'all, the dress was SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. Even if the family is rich, what family in their right mind is just not going to blink an eye at their teenaged son buying a girl a SEVEN THOUSAND DOLLAR dress she'll wear one time? I'm just saying if I were Ben's parents, I'd be yanking that AmEx back so fast he'd get whiplash. I also could. not. stand. Jess' best friend Rayna. She seemed so out of touch with reality, and while I get she was a teenager, I felt that throughout most of the book she was just a selfish gossip. She did redeem herself a bit towards the end though, but whew was it a bumpy ride!
All in all, I thought this was a very cute, quick read that will make you both nostalgic for those late teen years, but also so so glad you don't have to relive them.
If you love a cute coming of age rom com, or if you love a teenager that you think could benefit from this story, you can preorder a copy of Frenemies with Benefits by Lydia Sharp here or here before it releases on August 29!
Love and salted caramel ice cream cones four scoops deep,
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher and have voluntarily written this review with my honest feedback. If you purchase a copy using my Bookshop.org affiliate link above, I will receive a small commission and you'll support local indies! If you purchase a copy using my Amazon affiliate link above, I will receive a small commission which I will use to justify my literary addictions and to spoil my dogs (probably).