I’ve been reading YA books for years, but when my son morphed into a teenager and started dating, I opted out of any YA or NA romance. Because, eww. But he’s twenty-three now and living an adventurous life as a photojournalist, so I decided to lift the ban on kissy-face young adult and new adult books. And boy, what a great decision, because I enjoyed Cookie O’Gorman’s Cupcake, about a curvy girl unexpectedly making the homecoming court and the handsome boy who shares the stage with her. This is an easy, likeable story that introduces us to two characters who are more than what the world expects.
They see each other. That’s such an important concept in a relationship, and it’s remarkable that it’s two high school students from opposite ends of the cafeteria. I get tired of my peers in real life who are happy to lump young people into the single assumption of bored/lazy/uninformed. Today’s teenagers are smart and savvy. The connection they have with the world is not just through technology; they ask questions and take action. The quarterback is not only interested in the head cheerleader. The curvy girl is confident and comfortable in her own skin. Both unexpected traits when you’re only looking at the surface.
O’Gorman doesn’t gloss over the microaggressions faced by legions of plus-sized girls and the mean girls who mete out the meanness, but she does divine in Ariel a character who has the chutzpah to try something new. In Rhys she has the traditional king of high school who likes a girl who stands out from the crowd.
This is a sweet romance, and an easy read, but there are a few problem areas for me. First of all, if this were a vampire story, I could wrap it up by saying I’ve always preferred Lestat over Edward. In my forties, I may be past a YA romance. This is really a story for a solid teenage reader who will sigh and hold it against her chest and cheer on Ariel as a true heroine, who faces the haters with bravery and learns to stand up for herself. Who wishes with all her heart for Rhys, who will see the true heart of her and be brave enough to pursue a girl because he really likes her. Secondly, there are a lot of pop culture references, particularly to Sarah J. Maas and ACOTAR, so if you’re not in the know they slow the story’s momentum. And lastly, there’s more high school drama than good conflict, so there were some places where the story dragged a little.
Cupcake is a solid story. It’s sweet and charming, and paints an idyllic vision of high school that would’ve been nice for every generation to have experienced. In a world of tropes, this contemporary romance feels a little cliché, but that’s not a bad thing. Read it because you love 10 Things I Hate About You. Read it because you like a curvy girl who gets the quarterback. Read it because you want to feel good. It’s cathartic to read a book that’s not going to smack you upside the head.