Book Review: Anyone But Her by Erica Lee
by Brittany B. |10/16/2019
Anyone But Her by Erica Lee is a cute lesbian romance story that brings all sorts of tropes together for a quick, fun read. There’s fake dating and closets aplenty, family drama and close-minded small towns, and not to mention falling for your best friend’s twin:
Reagan Cooper has been an out and proud lesbian since high school, but can’t say no when her gay best friend, Jamie Miller, asks her to pretend to be his girlfriend for his family reunion. Jamie has been there for her through everything. Plus, she’s interested in learning more about the family he never speaks of.
Living in California for eight years, Charlie Miller has been able to live authentically, but being back in her small Maryland hometown with her conservative family means going back into the closet. What she didn’t expect was to be so attracted to her brother’s girlfriend.
This book was pretty adorable and sings the praises of platonic love between best friends. Throughout the book, the fake relationship between Jamie and Reagan is consistently perpetuated by the sheer amount of love that these two feel for each other. It doesn’t matter that that love is platonic – Jamie’s conservative and religious family can’t tell the difference.
The premise of the book – Jamie asking Reagan to be his fake girlfriend and accompanying him for his five-week-long family reunion trip – sets up for some very unpredictable moments and brings an ample amount of tension to the story. Tension from the mutual sexual attraction between Reagan and Charlie, tension from all protagonists of potentially being caught up in the various lies about their lives, and tension that naturally comes along when dealing with overbearing parents with opposing political and religious views of the protagonists. And it only escalates from there. The story didn’t lack for varied types of tension, which was refreshing for me as a reader in the romance genre. Having the solid foundation of tension between Charlie and Reagan made the emotional weight of their relationship all the more believable in the latter half of the book.
Anyone But Her was my first experience reading a book with alternating first-person perspectives as the chapters switched between Reagan and Charlie’s point of view. At first, it took a little getting used to but it was an interesting way to read the story. Though I liked having both perspectives, as it helped create the tension between the women as their respective attractions grew for one another, the problem I ran into was that the women weren’t different enough to be distinguishable from each other in the first person. It’s literally just flipped whose eyes the reader is seeing the story from. I’m not sure if that was a fault of the perspective of the book, or if it was a misstep in the crafting of the characters for the story.
Characterization, in general, felt relatively shallow in the story. I don’t have a good sense of what the protagonists would find funny or what they’re passionate about as the story focuses wholly on maintaining the lie of the fake relationship between Reagan and Jamie. It didn’t help their characterization that Jamie, Reagan, and Charlie have to act differently when they’re home for the Miller family reunion than they do in their day to day lives away from the extended Miller family. Jamie being an out gay man who teaches at a high school, Reagan who is an unapologetic queer woman who does advertising for a queer non-profit, and Charlie who only came out after she moved to California to attend school to become an optometrist. That is all I really know for sure about the main trio of characters, and that’s from being told, not shown in the story.
Even though I appreciate the narrative trying to showcase that, yes, queer people often have to act differently when they go home depending on how out they are or aren’t and what their family is like, it made it difficult to get a feeling for who the characters really were. Especially because it didn’t feel like any of our three main protagonists had fully realized character arcs, either. They all have small arcs that come crashing to a messy conclusion at the end of the book, but I also had to really look for the arcs when it came to Jamie and Reagan. Charlie is really the only one I felt had a clear arc.
The side characters in the book, mainly more of the Miller family or exes of the twins when they were high school, also had problems with their characterization and development. Most felt more like caricatures rather than fully realized characters. The extended Miller family is described as simple church going conservatives who want everything to be done the way God intended it, with women in supportive roles to their husbands and babies on their hips, and the word gay can only be muttered in hushed tones where God can’t hear and if you have a gay child, the parent clearly did something wrong and they’re being punished. Though these caricatures provided some really good moments for Reagan and Charlie to challenge the Miller family’s way of thinking, it didn’t help the Miller family side characters feel authentic. And towards the end of the book, you find out that not all the Miller family thinks the same, but there is so much going on in that particular scene, that it gets lost in the narrative.
I think my favorite thing about this book was the solidarity between Reagan and Jamie and how stable their friendship is. There were a few scenes where I didn’t agree with how Jamie treated Reagan but reminded myself that he is human and that humans often lash out when their emotions are hurt. But despite the bonkers situation that the two found themselves in because Jamie had been lying to his family about Reagan being his girlfriend for the last few years, Reagan isn’t ever malicious towards him. She has several opportunities to out Jamie to various family members, mainly his sister, but always finds a way around it and is adamant that it isn’t her secret to share. She’s honest with Charlie to tell her that she and Jamie aren’t dating and that their relationship is fake, but doesn’t say why it’s a fake relationship and encourages Charlie to talk to her brother about it, and indicates that the two have more in common than they think.
All in all, Anyone But Her is an adorable read that will satiate the average reader for an afternoon. It’s cute, quick, and satisfies the itch to read. The book doesn’t have a super unique plot, it doesn’t have any deep or thought-provoking moments, and the characters don’t feel fully realized. Despite that, the book will still leave you with feel-good vibes and a happy ending after a somewhat tumultuous ride full of varied tension. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be cheering on Great Grandma Nana from the moment you meet her.
3 out of 5 Rainbows
Recommended Reader: Anyone looking for a wlw romance that’s a quick and cute read. Perfect for a cold fall day, flight, or weekend escape. If overbearing, close-minded, religious families are a trigger for you, just know that that is where a lot of the conflict of the story comes from in this story.
You can find more from Erica Lee on Twitter.