The Love Interest is author Cale Dietrich’s 2017 debut novel. It follows two boys, Caden and Dylan, who are part of an underground spy organization known as SIC, where they are trained to be either Nice (think boy next door) or Bad (every YA’s favorite brooding bad boy) and sent out to attempt to woo the same girl – someone deemed important by the organization. But feelings can be dangerous. Especially feelings for which the consequence is death.
Okay, so you can probably guess by the number of stars in the title that I was not wowed by this book. In fact, I was actually pretty disappointed because I had really high hopes for this one. I knew in advance that it had LGBTQ+ representation, which I was really excited about (because we need more diversity in books!), but I just had way too many problems with the characters and story itself to really enjoy the novel.
So, this being said, spoilers will abound in this review. Normally, I try to provide a review in which spoilers are only a piece of it, so those of you who haven’t read the book can get a glimpse into my opinion of the work without being spoiled, but the qualms that I have with this novel are so intertwined with the “secrets” of the book, that there is no way for me to give you my full review without delving into the nitty gritty details.
You’ve been warned.
Also: there is swearing beyond this point.
The biggest difficulty I had with the LBGTQ+ themes throughout this novel was that they were severely underdeveloped. In fact, a lot of character decisions and actions are done for shock factor, rather than coming naturally from the characters themselves. I’ve actually rewritten this section of my review multiple times because I can’t seem to find the right words to describe my frustrations here (or I end up typing too many words and it all gets really confusing). Essentially, there are WAY TOO MANY contradictory details in the characterizations of Caden and Dylan, which result in their interactions with one another (and their relationship as a whole) appearing not only forced and underdeveloped, but influenced with a heavy-hand by the author. By this, I mean that there are several scenes throughout the novel where Caden and Dylan’s interactions come across less authentic and more like the author shouting: “I am Caden. I am conflicted. This is Dylan. Dylan is also conflicted. We are conflicted together. Conflict.”
Like, cool, I could have figured that out on my own through context, but okay. Thanks.
I found the inconsistencies with character especially notable toward the end of the novel when Dylan tells Caden that he has been lying to him for the entire length of the novel, and is actually straight. To which the universal response by both character (Caden) and reader is: the fuck are you talking about?!
The author uses this scene simply for its shock factor; I think this moment is supposed to appear as another obstacle for Caden (in terms of his self-identity and his definition for why he is rebelling against SIC), but in reality it just comes across as incredibly untrue to the characters themselves. Nothing in the novel previous to this scene supports the idea that Dylan has been faking his relationship with Caden. In fact, it is just the opposite. Dylan’s character is the first to claim that he feels he can only be truthful with Caden because they are in a similar. However, there is a second reversal at the end of the novel where it becomes clear that the author wants his readers to believe that Dylan was lying about lying about being non-heterosexual because he does, in fact, love Caden.
If you are confused by this, me too.
There are SO MANY details throughout this book that are stated and tossed away, or left hanging completely, like a sentence that just
[…stops abruptly in the middle and you have to just fill in the rest with your imagination, even though the sentence could be saying LITERALLY ANYTHING, but you wouldn’t know because people are not mind readers who can predict the author’s thoughts/intentions. And, if we were, this world would be a much freakier place.]
One of the details that bothers me most in this novel (*tears up because there are so many*) is the detail at the beginning of the novel that describes SIC as a multi-billion dollar organization that is present in 11 countries worldwide. Okay, cool, so what’s the problem with this?
My problem is that there is one building “destroyed” at the end of the novel, and yet somehow this supposedly destroys the entire organization? How?
Not to mention the fact that the entire organization is being run by exactly two people? (I assume this because when Caden and Co. sneak into SIC headquarters in an attempt to destroy the organization, they only come across two people: the so-called leader of the organization, and the scientist behind the organization’s deadly robot killer things. AND THAT’S IT. The only other people described to be inside the headquarters are a bunch of guards and the kids being held captive.)
WHERE IS EVERYONE ELSE? BECAUSE THERE HAS TO BE AN EVERYONE ELSE. Billion-dollar organizations don’t get built overnight, and they certainly don’t get built by only two people. But okay, okay, let’s say I accept this (truly unrealistic) piece of information as fact. Riddle me this: why does this organization exist in the first place? And how are these disorganized mother fuckers still in business? The only explanation provided to the main character Caden (and thus to the reader) is that the organization exists to gather and sell secret information about important people. Like a glorified paparazzi organization, but with deadly robots.
So why go through all the trouble of training two teenaged spies and sending them after a 17 year old girl genius who is still in high school? Sure, she’s a genius, which means she’ll probably be important one day, but what information could they possibly garner from her that would be worth all of the time and money that went into stalking this poor girl? I mean, all this effort and never once is Caden instructed to report back his observations of the girl (Juliet) or any possible useful information about her to the company. This detail seems to just fall off into space.
And, to make matters even more funny (*ehem, not really*), the one piece of information that the company probably could have found useful was about Juliet’s inventions, and these inventions are what are used to destroy the company. So Caden and Dylan are either really bad at their jobs, or the author allowed these loose ends to fray out completely.
Unexplained and/or contradictory details abound in this novel.
Lastly, and the thing that solidified my dislike of the character development and storyline of this novel, is the unnecessary death of Tyler that in no way influences or affects the plot or characters at the end of the novel.
His is literally a meaningless death that the author included solely for shock value.
I am 100% not here for this.
If a character is going to die – especially a main character – then their death had better fucking matter. Something should happen as a result of the death that affects the outcome of the novel.
But no. In this case, Tyler jumps in front of his girlfriend Natalie (WHO IS WEARING A BULLETPROOF JUMPSUIT) to prevent her from getting shot. Yeah, so not only is his death absolutely pointless, because it adds nothing to the story except for brief shock value, it is also the DUMBEST THING I HAVE READ IN A LONG TIME. Natalie, the only character out of all five characters who can withstand getting shot (because, again, BULLETPROOF JUMPSUIT) is who Tyler decides to “protect” by taking the bullet instead.
At this point I knew I was done with this book. There was no coming back from that steep cliff edge.
So, you may be wondering how this book has managed to achieve even a two star rating if I am so angry with it, and that is because the writing itself is very compelling. Compelling enough that I was able to read this book in a day. While the writing style and voice are something I can – and do – appreciate, everything else just sort of fell through.
As far as a UUS nomination, this book (sadly, because I was so hopeful) gets a Meh, don’t bother.
Final Count: 2.5 stars