I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review itself.
Also, an important note: Much of the conversation and concern surrounding this book in its ARC form centers around how race, religion, and culture are depicted. I do not feel I am qualified to do this very important issue justice, and recommend going on Goodreads to read the in depth and insightful reviews surrounding this topic. It appears that the author had plans to make some changes in response to those reviews, so please remember my review here is based solely off the ARC and not off the final published book.
This is a story about many, many things, but at its romantic heart, it is a story about fake dating suddenly showing the potential to become real love. Karina Ahmed agrees to tutor Ace Clyde (long known as the high school's resident "bad boy" who doesn't care about his education) for their English class because of her deep love for literature and poetry. When Ace introduces her as his girlfriend to his family, Karina is horrified, and afraid her parents will find out. But with her parents out of the country, Karina finds herself with the chance to explore how she truly feels about her life, her future, and Ace.
I really appreciated that the main character, Karina, is a character with anxiety. The book discusses how her anxiety manifests itself mentally, emotionally, and physically, and rang very true for me as someone with anxiety. I think it's so important to have more YA main characters with realistically depicted mental health, and I thought that was well done here.
Karina's two best friends are really great characters. They are girls who all have each other's backs no matter what. There is no drama, nothing coming between them, and they provide an incredibly beautiful support system for each other. This was really refreshing and lovely to see in a YA book.
I also found the romance between Karina and Ace charming and I was definitely rooting for them. I really liked that Ace, instead of finding Karina's anxiety off putting or too much to handle, chose to do research and find new ways to help her cope when she felt overwhelmed.
The ending, while enjoyable, felt way too pat for me, though. It just didn't seem possible, given everything the characters had gone through and were still up against, that everything would work out the way it did. I would say this book had a lot of potential, and it mostly lived up to my expectations.