It’s been a banner year for fake dating in queer YA romances. First came She Drives Me Crazy, Kelly Quindlen’s rom-com about a basketball player who enlists her cheerleading nemesis in a phoney relationship scheme. Then there was Adiba Jaigirdar’s Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, a popular girl begs a brainy frenemy to pretend to date her so her friends won’t think she’s faking her bisexuality. And Meet Cute Diary, about a trans boy who needs a fake boyfriend when his blog of cute trans relationship stories is exposed as a fraud.
Okay, that’s a lot of queer teens dealing with precarious schemes, awkward miscommunication, and fake feelings that turn real. But if your thirst for fake dating remains unslaked—and there are plenty of people who can’t get enough of the trope—Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura (author of It’s Not Like It’s a Secret) offers all those things and more.
Nozomi Nagai is used to falling in love hard and fast. She’s also used to it not being reciprocated. When she falls for the gorgeous, fashionable Willow on a summer visit to her uncle in San Francisco, Nozomi is happy to be pulled in to a fake-dating scheme to make Willow’s ex-girlfriend jealous. Willow wants her ex to realize that they’re meant to be together, but Nozomi is hoping Willow will realize she wants something real with Nozomi. But there’s also Dela, Nozomi’s partner on a summer project at the museum where she’s an intern. And around Dela, Nozomi doesn’t have to pretend at all.
Sigiura’s book is a sweet, fast read, although it veers toward cringe comedy a little too often for my taste. Awkward protagonists are a staple of the rom-com, but Nozomi is almost unbearably awkward—the secondhand embarrassment was so bad that I had to walk away from the book a few times. But hey, that’s what being a teenager is like! (The most disappointing thing about the book, for my money, is the complete lack of any actual natural disasters. Between the title and the San Francisco setting, I was sure we were heading for a dramatic third-act earthquake, but it never arrived.) My favorite part of Nozomi’s story was not the love triangle, but the touching subplot about Nozomi’s aging grandmother, Baba. When Nozomi’s uncle came out to Baba years ago, their relationship was strained for years, and she never really accepted it. Nozomi has to decide whether coming out to her grandmother will cause more pain than it’s worth.
I haven’t gotten a chance to read the other fake dating titles at the start of this review, so it’s hard to say whether Love & Other Natural Disasters should fall above or below those books on your reading list. But if you love trope-y queer love stories and awkward teenagers, this one is a safe bet.
Love & Other Natural Disasters by Misa Sugiura was published on June 8, 2021.