by Sophie Gonzales, Cale Dietrich
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Date: December 7, 2021
Genres: Romance, Young Adult
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Eighteen-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two members of the boy-band Saturday, one of the biggest acts in America. Along with their bandmates, Angel Phan and Jon Braxton, the four are teen heartbreakers in front of the cameras and best friends backstage. But privately, cracks are starting to form: their once-easy rapport is straining under the pressures of fame, and Ruben confides in Zach that he’s feeling smothered by management’s pressure to stay in the closet.
On a whirlwind tour through Europe, with both an unrelenting schedule and minimal supervision, Ruben and Zach come to rely on each other more and more, and their already close friendship evolves into a romance. But when they decide they’re ready to tell their fans and live freely, Zach and Ruben start to truly realize that they will never have the support of their management. How can they hold tight to each other when the whole world seems to want to come between them?
I’m of the vintage where my formational boy bands were Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. Sure, there were lots of arguments over which band was best and who was the hottest, but it was nothing like the fan culture surrounding boy bands today (especially KPOP!). So I can’t exactly say this sounded up my alley, but I absolutely adored Sophie Gonzales’ Perfect on Paper and the combination of best-friends-to-lovers plus forbidden love tropes peaked my interest. And I’m so glad I took the chance on this because it was an absolute rollercoaster of a ride full of angst, pining and adorableness.
After their latest successful tour of the US, the four members of the boy band Saturday are setting out on a European tour. Jon, Angel, Ruben and Zach met at a performing arts camp and got signed when it turned out that one of the band member’s dad was a record executive. Now at eighteen, while they’re all friends, some are closer than others, and that’s especially true for best friends Ruben and Zach. Their friendship makes the long days of training and publicity bearable, but their burgeoning attraction to each other may wreck not only their relationship, but the whole band.
“Why pick neutral when you have the whole rainbow?”
Ruben has a ridiculous drive to succeed, spurred on by a childhood filled with a mother whose primary form of communication was criticizing her kid for not trying hard enough. Despite that, he’s still quite sweet and a bit starved for affection, though he’s been burned by his past relationships. Zach is a spot of safety for him, though lately it’s been hard for Ruben to hide his attraction to him. It’s pretty much an open secret in the industry that Ruben’s gay, though most of the band thinks that it’s Ruben’s choice, not the label’s mandate, that he stay closeted. After all, part of their boy band appeal is that all of their teenage girl fans can imagine themselves with them. While Ruben’s known he’s gay for a while, Zach has only recently realized he’s attracted to men as well as women. It’s confusing for him, especially when he realizes that the main person he’s crushing on right now is his best friend. Zach’s a go-with-the-flow people pleaser, so initially Ruben’s frustrated trying to figure out what Zach actually wants as opposed to what Zach thinks Ruben wants. But, as in every good couple, they eventually learn how to stand on their own feet with the support of the other.
I liked this book, but, oof, it gave me a ton of anxiety. There’s a lot to worry about, just in terms of Zach and Ruben’s relationships: how to keep it a secret to whether they should keep it a secret to what the label’s reaction will be. Plus, there’s all the hopeless anger over how the band is treated by the label. It doesn’t shy away from all the negatives about the music industry and pre-packaged boy bands in particular. There’s all the pressure of being famous, not to mention the pressure to conform to their label-assigned roles, plus all the other downsides of being pop stars: scheduled to the gills, extremely restrictive diets, being treated like toddlers rather than eighteen year olds. They’ve been forced into characters that don’t fit their personalities, like Angel (who’s even had his name taken away from him) having to be the perfect boy next door while Jon, who’s deeply religious, is constantly instructed to act sexier than he’s comfortable with.
“You never annoy me, you know,” he says, as he presses a kiss to the back of my head. “You don’t need to pretend to be happy if you’re not. You’re perfect just the way you are.”
I close my eyes.
I’m so lucky I have Ruben. Without him, right now . . . I don’t know what I’d do.
I do know I’ll do whatever I have to do to protect this.”
Told from the first-person POVs of Ruben and Zach, each of the characters faces separate issues they have to overcome, from coming out to dealing with toxic family, and their growth, as individuals and as a couple, is phenomenal. They felt like real people learning to take charge of their own lives, going through that transition from childhood to adulthood, and it gave me all the feels. As their relationship changes, they try their best to keep communicating, though that’s hard when neither are entirely sure how to articulate their feelings, not to mention one of them is facing new revelations about their sexuality. They’re truly lovely together, though, and a definite example of two people being stronger together.
While this focuses mainly on Ruben and Zach, there’s plenty about Jon and Angel as well. Given the amount of time they spend on tour, their relationships with their bandmates are as important as those with their parents. Like a family, there’s all the in-jokes and squabbling you’d expect, but it’s clear how much they love and depend on each other. It’s very much them against the world, and I absolutely loved it.
Overall, I enjoyed this book much more than I expected to, and I’m adding both authors to my “definitely buy!” list.
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