The Happy List
I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages and am really pleased I finally got around to it. The Happy List is a wonderful friends-to-lovers/opposites-attract romance featuring life-long best friends, Gray and Kai who couldn’t be more different. Gray is somewhat rigid and set in his ways; he’s a meticulous planner and workaholic who has very little else in his life because that’s what’s always been expected of him and he doesn’t know any other way to be. Kai is more of a free-spirit; he’s funny and upbeat and sweet, and after years spent travelling, has returned to Boston thinking maybe it’s time he set down some roots, and plans to set up in business as a bespoke furniture-maker.
The book opens on the evening of Gray’s disastrous engagement dinner. It’s disastrous because he doesn’t actually want to get married; he loves Cee, his girlfriend of two-years, but isn’t IN love with her, and her proposal – in front of the assembled friends, family and other guests – is kind of a wake-up call for him, alerting him to the fact that they’re so far from being on the same page as to be in completely different libraries! Gray can’t possibly go back into the restaurant to face everyone after his public refusal, so instead he escapes by crawling through the bathroom window – and immediately bumps into Kai, who was on his way inside. Gray is overjoyed at seeing his best friend again, and they immediately fall into their usual sort of affectionate teasing and trash-talk. Gray can’t help but contemplate how easy it is to be with Kai; there’s no pressure, no expectations – they’re just ‘them’.
Seeing Gray squeezing through a window isn’t something Kai had expected to see that evening, but he’s always been one to go with the flow, and he and Gray head off in his PoS car to grab some food. They pick up their friendship like he’s never been away, talking about everything and nothing, and he’s really glad he’s managed to get over the ridiculous crush he’s had on Gray for years, because now they can be just buddies with no stupid shit in the way. Then Gray suggests Kai should move into his spare room – which is a great offer, but maybe not the smartest move. But then Kai never pretended to be smart.
Rooming together works out really well for both of them and they quickly settle into a rhythm. But after a night out drinking with Kai, Kai’s sister Monica and her partner, and a game of Never Have I Ever, Gray suddenly realises his life is boring and predictable as hell and he’s never really had what Kai or anyone else he knows would call fun. This realisation inspires him to come up with his Happy List (because of course he does – he can’t just go from being a meticulous planner to Mr. Spontaneous overnight!) it’s time to make some big changes and shake things up a bit – “Don’t think, just do” is going to be his new motto. He’s going to get out there and have some fun. He’s going to take a risk, go on a road trip, do something crazy, and … he’s going to work out why the idea of Kai going on dates makes him want to hit something.
Briar Prescott takes her tropes and runs with them to produce a terrific end result, a delicious slow-burn romance full of warmth, humour and some of the best quick-fire, genuinely funny banter I’ve read in quite some time. The longing and sexual tension between Gray and Kai is brilliantly done and absolutely leaps off the page, the depth of their mutual affection is palpable, and I loved how supportive they are of each other. My absolute favourite thing in a friends-to-lovers story is that moment when one protagonist looks at the other and (at last!) sees them through fresh eyes, as someone they’re attracted to as more than a friend. Sometimes it’s a coup de foudre and sometimes it creeps up on them slowly, which is how it happens for Gray here. I liked how confident he is in his attraction to Kai; he doesn’t freak out about being attracted to another guy and has clearly given some thought to the way attraction works for him; he talks about needing to know someone before he becomes attracted to them (in the next book, The Dating Experiment, it’s explicitly stated that Gray is demisexual), and he accepts his attraction to Kai as a progression of their existing relationship. Kai is understandably wary – Gray has never indicated he’s anything other than straight and Kai’s worried he’s just an experiment; he’s sure he’s in for massive heartbreak but he can’t find it in him to turn down something he’s wanted for so long. His persistence in thinking that Gray is merely curious and that they’re ‘just having fun’ maybe goes on a bit too long, but I did like the way things are resolved without a silly argument or breakup.
I loved both characters, although it’s Gray who experiences the most character growth as he comes to understand himself better, to realise that he dislikes his job and wants to do something more with his life; and I loved watching his journey from being so tightly wound and self-controlled to someone open to possibility and willing to take risks. Kai doesn’t change so much, but he’s a delightful character nonetheless, good-natured and full of fun and mischief. There’s a small, well-drawn secondary cast here that includes Gray’s older brother Connor, who basically brought him up after their parents died (and even before, given they were hardly ever around), their feisty grandmother and Kai’s sister Monica, who is wonderfully clear-sighted and supportive.
There are so many romances being published today and advertised as rom coms that really aren’t, but The Happy List definitely fits that bill. It’s a bundle of sexy, light-hearted fun, the two leads are charming and likeable, and their romance is full of warmth and sizzling chemistry. I raced through it in a couple of sittings and finished it with a happy sigh – and I’ll definitely be looking for more of Briar Prescott’s work.