Desert Isle Keeper
I find that books are like expensive boxed chocolates—they all look delicious, but there’s really no telling what’s inside each. Some look normal but have hidden inside a strange neon green substance that doesn’t taste all that good. Others hide a caramel or truffle filling that’s just delicious. Faking It was a book of the truffle variety.
Mackenzie “Max” Miller lives a double life. Most of the time, she’s a tattooed singer living in Philadelphia dating her equally tattooed bandmate Mace. But every so often she has to see her parents, and her alter ego comes out. The girl who greets them wears turtlenecks and is careful not to mention how much time she spends in bars. Her parents disapprove of her regardless; they’re unhappy that she dropped out of college and refuses to search out more steady employment. But at the opening of Faking It Max’s life is in balance.
Although it’s a precarious one, to be sure. Max’s older sister Alex died in a car accident when Max was thirteen, and her death changed the Miller family forever. Max’s parents became obsessed with keeping Max “on the right path,” and suddenly she was expected to be everything her sister once was—just as smart, just as popular, just as perfect. But Max is a bird of a different feather, and after she got out of high school she decided she was done playing Alex. Well, except when her parents are around, because if they knew about all the tattoos and such they would stop paying for her apartment.
This arrangement seems to be working out until Max’s parents show up in Philly for a surprise visit. Max is out for coffee with her boyfriend when her parents call up to say they’re in the city and want to meet. Right away. Max tries to deter them, but they hear her boyfriend talking over the phone and are instantly curious. Nothing she can say will stop them, and when she tells Mace of the impending parental visit, he flees.
So Max is stranded, awaiting her parents in a busy shop, minus the boyfriend her parents are expecting to meet. She’s starting to freak out when the heavens align and she notices Cade Winston sitting all alone in the corner of the shop.
One of the best things about this book was how different Cade and Max are. Cade is an all-American boy—short brown hair, well-dressed, very handsome. Max is a rockstar with purple hair and three birds tattooed on her neck. They each look at the other and think “Why would they want me? They’re so out of my league.” But Max approaches Cade regardless, because she knows she needs a fake boyfriend for five minutes, just long enough for her parents to approve of him. When Cade spontaneously agrees, the entire story is set into motion.
You see, Max’s parents love Cade. They were worried about her, and ready to tell her they would no longer help pay for her apartment (thus forcing her out of Philly and out of her life), but meeting Cade convinces them she might be somewhat grounded. Somewhat responsible. However, they decide over a Thanksgiving dinner at Max’s apartment that their continued funding will hinge on her continued relationship. In this way Cade’s five-minute coffee chat turns into a Thanksgiving dinner and then a Christmas holiday. Somewhere along the line he realizes he doesn’t mind—he and Max have a connection.
That connection doesn’t make it any easier when Cade tells Max to show her parents who she really is, and it doesn’t make her parents react any better. But with Cade’s help, Max finds she’s able to finally face the past and confront her parents about what’s been going on ever since her sister died.
I cannot stress enough how beautifully Cora Carmack handled all the strife. My biggest peeve when it comes to plots that center around family problems is that too often they work out perfectly. I live in a family, I know what it’s like to have trouble with certain people within it. I can tell you, no matter how beautiful a moment of reconciliation may be, it doesn’t fix everything. Much as we wish all our problems could be worked out with a single heart-to-heart conversation, life doesn’t work like that. Carmack acknowledged that.
She also did a wonderful job crafting the characters of Max and Cade. Neither is perfect, but both are likeable. They’re two funny people who you’d never picture together—golden boy with rocker girl—but somehow they make it work. They truly bring out the best in each other, with Max challenging Cade to me more spontaneous and involved in life, and Cade helping Max to slow down and not be such a tough-girl all the time.
Faking It was a surprise to me, something unexpectedly delicious amidst the sea of books that is my TBR pile. If this is anything to go by, I’ll definitely be looking for more by Cora Carmack in the future.