Faking Reality is a sprightly and fun romance about a girl trying to avoid love – and the way love finds her anyway. It feels very young though, so older readers might not enjoy it, especially because the characters feel a little underwritten, and the way the heroine’s parents react to the machinations of others is poorly handled. But it’ll be perfect for readers around the same mid-teen age bracket as the protagonists.
Dakota – Kota – McDonald spends a lot of time hanging around Matsuda (a Japanese restaurant), to the point where she’s jokingly referred to as “the Matsuda’s favorite child.” A lot of that hanging around has to do with the proprietor’s son, Leo Matsuda, her long-term best friend and even longer term crush. Dakota’s life is further complicated by her parent’s mid-level fame; they star in an HGTV reality show If These Walls Could Talk, which combines the real (or to be honest, “Reel”)-life drama of their family with her father and mother’s home renovation and crafting projects. The show’s been running for twelve seasons, since Kota was a baby, and she’s been on it just as long; she even has her own exclusive spin-off program, DIY with Dakota. This means Kota ends up in the crosshairs of the media more often than not, and it also means that she ends up being embarrassed in public more often than she’d like – including having a humiliating Saturday Night Live sketch based on her life. One of her previous romances went viral after a disaster at her homecoming dance and resulted in mortification.
Leo, meanwhile, just wants out of Arizona, and away from his close-knit family and their expectations that he continue running the restaurant when he graduates high school. He has plans to leave the state for college, and Kota’s been helping him every step of the way. Little does she know, he has a crush on her, too.
Their situations make Kota reluctant to talk about her feelings and her plans for giving him a gift on the show, even though Phil, their producer, is dying for something juicy to occur to make the show’s final season more interesting. In fact, they’re planning on building the show’s final episode around Dakota’s sweet sixteen party – a nightmare for any awkward teenager. Dakota wants to take Leo, but Phil wants to cast a swain for her to bring to the party; and offers her a nice car if she complies with the plan. Will Dakota choke down her fears about exposing herself and her feelings on the show and ask Leo out? Or will she ask Alex, the local baseball star?
Leo and Kota are interesting in one respect – they absolutely read like genuine high school sophomores. If you were ever fifteen and ever had a crush, or wanted to forge your own path through a personal wilderness, you will understand them.
What you won’t understand is how Dakota’s parents put up with Phil’s constant machinations and manipulations of Kota’s life. It’s a miracle she’s not more screwed up than she is, especially when it comes to what he pulls at the end of the book and what her parents tolerate in response.
The character development is weak; Dakota and Leo don’t really feel like they’ve changed by the end of Faking Reality, but the book mostly coasts by on character charm, and in that department at least, it has plenty to spare. The sweet romance that evolves out of Kota and Leo’s friendship is very nice to watch, and their friends are funny, interesting people. I’m hoping for a sequel about Nevaeh or Alex.
Faking Reality is a very sweet slice-of-life YA romance; it’s cute, but not challenging or compelling. But it will be adored by young readers for its chatty warmth and comfortable pace, and sometimes that’s all a reader needs.