Any Boy But You is a sweet romance set in a town obsessed with Christmas. We have a “Romeo and Juliet” situation between two rival sporting goods stores and the legacy established by the grandparents of our two mains. The characters are fun, the story is smooth, and this is a perfect Summer read at the beach.
Story: The Chestnut Sporting Good Store has been a rival to the Prince Sporting goods since the founders split off with each other decades ago over creative differences. Outgoing Elena Chestnut struggles with the decaying situation of her store and complacent parents. Shy and private Oliver Prince has an overachieving set of parents who are too busy conquering the world to care about the Prince Sorting Goods or even Oliver. When Oliver moves from Florida back to the sleepy northern town, he devises a plan to increase sales for the sporting good store: a Pokemon Go type of Ap that takes the town by storm. Elena is frustrated at the further lost sales caused by Oliver’s Ap but can’t help but be caught up in it – especially after texting conversations with a person in the Ap who sounds like her type of guy. The problem is, she doesn’t know it is her annoying rival Oliver.
There are some wonderful Shakespearean undertones here: from the Taming of the Shrew to Hamlet, to Romeo and Juliet. But the nods are subtle and definitely you won’t notice them upon first read. Author Hammerle gives us a broad cast of characters, from the feuding parents to the people at the school and those who interact with Elena’s store. And that quirkiness gives the book a bit of sparkle for an otherwise oft-told YA tale. Where many books of this type are charming, Any Boy But You is instead unconventional. Admittedly, I would have liked to see it edge more toward wacky but it stays fairly grounded instead.
Oliver isn’t the usual protagonist – he’s not a studly super confident popular smirking jock or class president. He’s fairly reserved and is forced to integrate with the town’s odd population by a very aggressive mother. Hammerle does a good job of making him much more worldy (he didn’t grow up there) than his more down-t0-Earth love interest, Elena, who grew up her whole life in the town. Both have personas that they can shed in the online chat/text of the game and therein have the ability to show/be their true selves.
The book doesn’t overplay the ‘I don’t know who this chat person is in real life’ too long – one learns the identity of the other fairly quickly and it isn’t a horrible overdramatic realization, either. Most of the story is about coming to terms with their own family problems (Elena’s parents money problems and Oliver’s parents’ disintegrating marriage and need for power). There are some small subplots about Elena’s friends and Oliver’s sister that create more interest as well.
In all, I enjoyed Any Boy But You. It was an enjoyable if not particular original read. If I have one critique, I wish it had pushed the quirkiness a bit more (as with great books like Third Cow On The Left). The milieu felt forced and unrealistic (the town obsessed with xmas) when the story stayed so grounded. But I liked both characters very much and appreciated that we didn’t get the same cliche type of boy love interest in Oliver. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.