Exes and O's
In Amy Lea’s Exes and O’s, Tara Chen is a romance book influencer when she isn’t a NICU nurse. When she interviews her grandmother about Grandma’s own trope-style second-chance romance, Tara becomes enamored of the idea of dating her own list of exes. Surely one of them could be her romantic reunion? Her roommate, firefighter Trevor Metcalfe, thinks the whole concept is loony, but maybe it’s because he’s falling for her himself?
Spoiler alert – it’s both.
Tara’s unhealthily obsessed with finding a relationship. Sure, she says;
“I’m a sexually liberated independent woman who don’t need no man to be happy…. Just because I don’t need someone in my life doesn’t mean I don’t want one.”
Her behavior, however, says need and desperation. We have multiple descriptions of multiple breakdowns she has had after relationships ended. Her exes describe her as “clingy”, and we learn that she proposed marriage to her ex-fiancé because she “panicked” that he was changing into someone who didn’t seem as interested in her. She keeps a box of mementos from every relationship – all of which are, let’s review, long defunct – because
“[W]hat if I get back together with one of them? I can’t just toss out tokens of our past. How cute would it be if I still had the menu from the very first restaurant we went to?”
It’s one thing to tack up a movie ticket stub from a date with your current boyfriend, and another to keep a used Fruit-by-the-Foot wrapper from someone you dated a decade ago. Move on before you get roaches. The characters do bring up the charge from exes that Tara is “crazy” and the unfairness of labeling a woman that way for wanting a relationship but… if you’ve been arrested by airport police for trying to Grand Gesture somebody without going through security? Break out the Patsy Cline, honey, because I have a new theme song for you.
The author exacerbates this characterization of Ahab Tara stalking the white whale of love by not giving us any examples of Tara that aren’t about courtship. All of her work scenes involve her ex (a NICU doctor) and discussions about their past or her present quest. All of her scenes with her friend and her sister come back to her talking about her love life. All of her scenes with her grandmother are about her need to have her own second chance romance. Even her book/romance novel loving career is reduced to talking about her quest to find love and her conflation of real people and events with fiction (see: the airport). This makes it extra difficult to figure out why Trevor falls in love with her. Underneath the derangement, who even IS Tara, for him to love at all?
Trevor is also not fleshed-out, but unlike Tara (who seems like a real human who is profoundly in need of returning to the therapist she mentions she has stopped seeing), in a way that makes it seem like the author doesn’t have much to say about him beyond making him dreamy. It’s not the only writing problem. About a third of the way in, the author establishes the upcoming Valentine’s Day heart gala as a set-piece, and then tells us Trevor’s niece’s birthday will be February 15. Cool, just let me get out my calendar and mark BIG MIS on Valentine’s and pencil in ‘Grovel’ for the next day. The dialogue is overtagged, and the author tries too hard to be clever with similes (“like children fighting over the last piece of pizza at a birthday party”, “like we’ve just completed a gruesome spin class”, etc.).
I’m sure Tara and her quest were intended to be some sort of ‘love letter to the genre’, or ‘shout out to romance readers and reviewers’, or suchlike. Unfortunately, it felt more like a caricature than a tribute. As such, I don’t recommend it.
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.