Spotlight Review: HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors—and each other.

Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.

Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption—yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)

These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.

Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

 “A zippy rom-com with strong characterization, bursting with Gen Z–approved verbal sparring and stolen kisses.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A great addition to any library’s YA shelves, especially where there’s a gap in the collection for love stories featuring Black teens.”—David Roberts, School Library Journal

https://amzn.to/3ZepM6q

I loved all of Hibbert’s books, so when this book start showing up on all the “2023 romances not to be missed” lists, I was all in. This book is firmly set in young adult (YA) territory, not something I read very often. I haven’t been a YA for more years than I care to think about! But my love for this author won out, and I’m very glad I read it.

Celine and Brad are our main protagonists in this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance. And they happen to be Black, and both have some mental health issues. Brad has been struggling with OCD but through therapy has learned how to manage it. For the most part. Celine has some self-esteem issues, yet comes across as really full of herself, the know-it-all of the school. Luckily, her grades reflect that, but deep inside she knows she’s different, and not necessarily in a good way.

Their mothers are best friends, and Celine and Brad were as well until they got to high school. Football (soccer) star Brad becomes one of the most popular kids, and Celine feels like he is leaving her behind. They are either ignoring one another or sniping at one another, there is no in-between with them. Until they both apply for this very prestigious scholarship program.

Brad wants the scholarship because that will give him the freedom to live on his own, without having to deal with a roommate. His OCD is best managed when he doesn’t have to deal with other people’s messes. Celine wants the scholarship because one of the sponsors is the law firm where the father who abandoned her works, and she wants to rub his face in her success.

This scholarship competition involves two camping trips where all the students will be constantly observed and graded on their teamwork and leadership skills. The top three scores win full rides to the college of their choice. And just having gone through the process – it is limited to only 20 participants – can give these students a formidable leg up, both in their college choices and careers that lie ahead. But both Celine and Brad know that sniping at each other is going to cause them both to lose, so a truce is declared. As they work together, they both start remembering why they were such good friends and eventually, their fake friendship becomes real again. And then it becomes something more.

I am no judge as to what teens or 20-somethings like in a book, so all I can say is that I loved it. The story was completely absorbing, and I couldn’t help but care about Celine and Brad. I wanted them to find their happy ending, even though they were so young and still had their whole lives ahead of them. It all rang true to me, especially the way they both struggled to find the courage to say “I love you.” I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 19, and here we are 40+ years later, so I believe that you can find your person at any age if you’re lucky!

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert. Joy Revolution (January 3, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593482353. 336p.

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