Not Your Valentine
Grade : A-

The heroine of Jackie Lau’s Not Your Valentine, Helen Tsang, goes viral as the victim of a nasty public breakup on Valentine’s Day. As the anniversary of that humiliation approaches, the pity from her family and friends feels intolerable, so she concocts a plan: she’ll ask her friend Taylor Li to be her fake boyfriend. Is Taylor’s rapid agreement due to being a great friend - or maybe to some feelings he’s had all along?

I LOVE oblivious heroines, so watching Helen miss all of Taylor’s clues is obviously my catnip. I don’t generally love fake relationships, but this motivation is more plausible than most. If I’d been in Helen’s shoes, especially with the fear that someone might follow up with a ‘where are they now?’ anniversary news article, I might be tempted to fake a happy outcome for myself as well.

I’ve seen this described as using the grumpy/sunshine trope, but that’s probably because it’s a hot marketing keyword, not because it’s accurate. Helen isn’t grumpy - she’s introverted. It’s introverted, not grumpy, to want to spend your evenings at home eating chocolate and watching shows. When she bails on a group text because it’s used up her social energy for the day, that’s an introvert trait, not a grumpy one. Same for being bad at reaching out to and keeping track of friends, but showing up and enjoying yourself at hangouts in moderation. ‘Grumpy’ is also often code for ‘bitch’, and Helen is not this at all. Taylor is a kind hero (he’s a hospital social worker) but I wouldn’t call him ‘sunshine’. While he’s supportive of Helen, she also supports him back. The two talk openly about how Taylor is working through issues related to his abandonment by his white Canadian mother, and how his own dating choices are affected by race dynamics.

Helen has the most realistic expression of millennial ambitions I’ve ever read: “I just want to live in Toronto and make a little money and come home to do whatever the fuck I feel like doing.” HELEN, GIRL, I HEAR YOU. Lau’s Toronto settings can always be relied on, not just to capture the weather and the lifestyle of the city (“this is such a perfect Toronto moment - being stuck on the TTC because of a raccoon”), but to create enormous food envy. I would 100% take the Helen and Taylor Toronto Restaurant Tour.

Why an A- and not an A? The events are a bit predictable. Helen realizes she’s in love with Taylor but gets weird about it because the ending has to be dramatic and not smooth; when Helen makes her Instagram public on a whim, Chekhov, put on your Kevlar, because that gun is gonna go off. The story is also short (136 pages) for the current Kobo price of $4.99.

But Jackie Lau always writes believable adults I enjoy spending time with in realistic locations, and Helen and Taylor and Toronto are not exceptions. If you’re looking for a comfort read in a contemporary setting and with great sex, try Not Your Valentine.

Note: This title is a Kobo exclusive - available HERE

Grade : A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : March 31, 2023

Publication Date: 01/2023

Recent Comments …

Caroline Russomanno

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.

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