Perfect on Paper is a Refreshingly Queer YA Romance
Author: Molly Catherine Turner
March 8, 2021
“Dear Locker 89, I want to ask my girlfriend to prom but don’t know how. She is not into grand gestures. Any ideas? Sincerely, [email protected]“
If you ever wished your high school had a secret locker where you could anonymously ask romantic advice, Perfect on Paper may be just the book for you. Sophie Gonzales’s latest young adult novel follows amateur relationship coach, Darcy Phillips, who runs a secret business in the hallways of her high school. No one knows who is behind Locker 89, but students know if you slip a note inside (with a cash tip), you’ll receive an email answering whatever your relationship question may be.
That is until the recently dumped Alexander Brougham catches Darcy red-handed opening the locker after school one day and proposes they work together to win back the heart of his ex-girlfriend. In their initial meeting, Darcy believes Brougham, a closed-off, hard-to-read Aussie, is blackmailing her, leading to them getting off on the wrong foot. Despite Darcy’s best efforts to stay professional, the two become friends, even as her crush on her best friend, Brooke, goes haywire when she starts dating someone else.
Everything comes to a head when Darcy’s classmates, including Brooke, learn she’s behind Locker 89 and has used the locker to her advantage in the past. When the truth comes to light, Darcy has to determine whether her growing friendship with Brougham may mean something more, and, if so, what that means in terms of her queer identity and her crush on Brooke.
Gonzales’s background as a psychologist shines through the page without ever sounding clinical or cold. For readers and letter-writers alike, Darcy’s advice provides well-researched advice that can educate young people about relationships, sexuality, and identity in a safe space where they may not otherwise find answers. From attachment styles to consent to asexuality, Darcy provides answers with thought and care for her letter-writers that the novel’s young readers will surely find instructive.
Aside from the locker itself, one of the main framing devices of the novel is the high school’s Queer and Questioning Club, which Darcy’s trans sister, Ainsley, founded. It’s a subtle way to weave queerness throughout the novel while also allowing for thematic discussions about identity relevant to the plot and characters. One such scene, later in the book, revolves around internalized biphobia, a topic still rarely discussed among queer communities off the page, let alone in young adult novels. As Brougham and Darcy grow closer, she stays withdrawn due to a fear based in her queerness: as a bisexual young woman, if she were to date a cis straight guy, would she be rejected by the queer community? Would her identity still be valid?
Spoiler alert: bisexuals in seemingly cishet relationships are still queer, which Darcy’s friends in the Queer and Questioning Club confirm, too. It’s a heartening passage to read, one that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or preachy as Darcy’s friends chorus and cheer, “You’re queer, Darcy!”
The warmth and heart of the book are never lost, even as the tension increases. By virtue of the locker’s existence, Darcy is a well-meaning liar, setting up an inherent conflict that makes you empathize and root for Darcy while waiting for the impending train wreck. Gonzales imbues Darcy with a warmth and intelligent self-awareness that makes her easy to root for, despite the secrets she keeps, and compounding lies she tells. Pairing her with the emotionally intelligent Brougham, who easily sees through her veneer, makes it all the better for a compelling third act when Darcy has to be honest with everyone, including herself.
Romance fans of any age will love Perfect on Paper and may likely see the novel’s twists and turns coming but will still be surprised by the stops along the way as Gonzales puts a refreshing queer spin on well-loved romance tropes. Brougham and Darcy’s relationship is the heart of Perfect on Paper as they navigate how to fit into each other’s lives like Darcy explains: “We shared cracks in complementary places.” By the end of the novel, they each discover they’ll do anything to protect each other, and that while the two are far from perfect, with each other’s help, they’ll get as close as they can.
Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales St. Martin’s Publishing Group Hardcover, 9781250769787, 352 pp. March 2021