Desert Isle Keeper
My Roommate's Girl
I know a lot of romance readers steer clear of NA books. I get it, I do. It’s difficult to achieve the right balance writing about college kids maturing into adulthood – and not a lot of writers are able to do it well. One writer who does successfully navigate this transitional time period is Julianna Keyes. My Roommate’s Girl gets the tone, the emotions and the relationships just right. It’s sexy, romantic and the plot – though unusual – is entertaining and engrossing. There are twists, funny PoVs and bad decisions – but it all works. This is NA at its best.
Aidan has been given a second chance. After another arrest for boosting cars, the judge gives him a choice; go to jail or participate in a second chance program for troubled kids. Aidan, who has a history of making poor decisions, finally makes a good one and he heads to the fictional Holsom College. But the scholarship comes with caveats: stay out of trouble with the law (duh), maintain a minimum GPA, and participate in the schools’ Promise & Potential Program. He’s managed to balance all three, but heading into his third year, he’s concerned the distractions of living on campus are jeopardizing his second chance. He convinces his program director to let him rent a room in town, and My Roommate’s Girl details how this seemingly good decision goes awry when he follows it up with a spectacularly bad one.
From the few texts they’ve exchanged, Aidan knows Jerry, his new roommate, is pre-med, a meticulous recycler, and, from his appearance when they first meet, a fan of polo shirts and the color purple. Jerry helps him bring in his few belongings and everything is fine until he introduces Aidan to his girlfriend Aster. Aidan looks at Aster and he’s done. He wants her.
Almost from the moment he meets Aster, Aidan plots to break up her relationship with Jerry and claim her for his own. When his plan succeeds – oh, it’s a terrible, horrible, sneaky plan – he feels bad for Jerry, but not bad enough to stay away from Aster. A week passes, and one late night he finds himself walking past the dorm where she is a Resident Adviser. When he hears his name, he turns to find Aster helping a drunk resident into the dorm. His offer to help is just the opportunity he needs to inveigle himself back into her life.
Under the guise of helping her get over Jerry and being a good friend, Aidan finds reasons to spend more and more time with Aster – hoping their friendship will turn into more. He alternately feels sorry for his roommate and guilty about his role in the break-up, but it doesn’t deter him from pursuing Aster. After weeks as ‘just friends,’ she agrees to go out with him on a date (he thinks), and Aidan is convinced their relationship is going to change. But when he arrives (with flowers), Aster pretends she forgot and has other plans. Despite alarm bells ringing LOUDLY in Aidan’s head telling him something is off about her behavior, he confronts her and asks why she’s lying. The tension builds until Aidan, frantic, kisses her. When the kiss quickly turns passionate, Aidan is overwhelmed with how right it is, until Aster…
Well, I’m not going to tell you! But it isn’t what I (or Aidan) expected! Aster’s response to the kiss, and the twist that takes place shortly afterwards, move the novel in a completely new direction. And introduces Aster’s PoV.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Aidan reads like a bit of a selfish asshole up to this point and… well… he is. Sort of. He tries to fight his desire for Aster, but when they aren’t together, he’s fantasizing about her and when they are… well, it’s all he can do to keep his hands to himself. When Aidan plots to break up Jerry and Aster, he knows it’s wrong but does it anyway. And lives to regret it. But it’s a bit too simple to say Aidan is a bad guy who does bad things. As the story unfolds, we see how hard he’s trying – and mostly succeeding – at changing his life. But he has TERRIBLE impulse control. Unfortunately for Aster, he’s classic bad boy catnip – handsome, slightly dangerous, rough around the edges, tatted up – with a witty and wry sense of humor, and a great big soft spot for her. I not-so-secretly loved him, and frankly, Aster doesn’t really stand a chance once he targets her. His PoV is alternately awkward, painful and hilarious, and it’s hard not to root for him despite his despicable behavior.
Aster is all the things Aidan thinks she is – good, pure, and sweet – but as the second half of the novel slowly reveals, there’s a whole lot more to Aster than meets the eye. She’s also smart, fierce and resilient. At first she’s a bit too good to be true, and I love that Ms. Keyes never shies away from that characterization. Instead, she enhances it by slowly and relentlessly peeling away Aster’s sunny facade to reveal her painful and heartbreaking backstory. She’s more than a match for Aidan and gives as good as she gets. I loved her PoV, and it’s a nice little bonus to re-wind the first half of the book through her eyes. Suffice it to say, her version is similar (she falls pretty hard for Aidan), but different in some very significant ways.
One of the major strengths of Ms. Keyes’ writing is her talent for dialogue. Conversations and PoVs are crisp, sharp and often very funny (and dry) – and I frequently find myself wincing/laughing/groaning as I read along. She also writes great principals with smoking hot chemistry. After the twist that splits the book, the relationship between Aidan and Aster changes. I don’t want to spoil the story (I do – but I won’t!), but I can tell you they’re a dynamic and perfect pair. The past – his and hers – features prominently in the second half of the novel, and it’s a tense, sexy and frustrating journey to their happily ever after. Sigh. I loved them.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention two terrific secondary characters who play pivotal roles in this story – Jerry and Missy (a friend of Aster’s). Much like the excellent secondary characters in the Burnham College books, these two pop off the pages. Though the break-up (orchestrated by Aidan) was Jerry’s fault, you can’t help feeling sorry for him and I hope Ms. Keyes finds a way to write a redemptive story about this loveable loser. Missy is Aster’s over-the-top friend who sort of has the hots for Aidan and plays on his frisbee baseball (?!) team. When Aidan pursues Aster and then… (ha! I’m not going to tell you), Missy engages in her own delightfully deranged version of revenge. She’s great, Jerry’s great… fingers crossed Ms. Keyes decides to give us more of these characters.
My Roommate’s Girl is proof – yet again – that Julianna Keyes is a masterful storyteller. Her NA books are the perfect blend of romantic, funny, and entertaining. I enjoyed every bit of it and I bet you will too.