Trade Me is a contemporary genre romance about an impoverished college student who tells her billionaire classmate 'if we traded places, you wouldn't last two weeks in my position', and he takes her up on it.
The above sentence is technically true. It is similar to the description of this book on Amazon. It is the description that made me decide to pass on reading it, because: meh, contemporary. Meh, billlionaires. Meh, unbelievable meetcute.
But then haikujaguar recommended it, and I decided to give it a try.
And this book.
That summary is true, and it is such bullshit.
This is a story about a man who uses the Imperial March as the ringtone for the father that he loves, for the dad who loves him, who's always been there for him, who is his best friend, because even so he is That Kind of dad.
It is about a woman who, when she has $50 to get her through the next nine days, sends $30 of it to her mother to help her little sister, and her mother who gives it to an immigrant who's fighting to avoid deportation. And that sounds maudlin and self-sacrificing but it's not: it is love tied up with resentment and raw terror and more love. With "you have to do this, but you can't, but you have to, so you find a way to even though it's destroying you."
It is about self-abnegation, about self-obliteration. It is about loving parents who are doing their best, whose kids adore them -- and the way these same parents are asking so much that is destroying those kids. It's about college students in love, and they feel like real college students, and they are adults but they are still so young, too young, for all those expectations that weigh them down.
It is a ridiculous meetcute with a ridiculous premise and yet somehow it rings with so much truth. Every character in this book is raw and real. There is no brutality in this book: no screaming, no violence, no hatred, no villains. But it is brutal nonetheless. Even more brutal because there are no villains, because no one is being unreasonable and yet they are all asking too much. They need too much. People are broken, and even billionaires with the best will in the world cannot fix that.
There's so much honesty in this story that when I got to the end, the happily-ever-after that every genre romance has, it was like driving a car into a wall at 50mph. The book stopped but I kept going. The reasons that kept the characters apart for so long were all still there, and yes, I was glad they were going to try instead of giving up, but I can't believe in the happily-ever-after. I need to know that they're going to be okay, and I don't think they are. I don't know how they can be.
Trade Me is a romance, and it has the things I expect of a romance: sensuality and attraction and love and the characters who think about Their Relationship and the stupid things that keep them apart. Except they're not stupid things. They're real. Terrifyingly real.
It is all of this, but far, far more. It transcends.
It is magnificent.
And harrowing, and heartbreaking, and I don't know what to say about it even though I've been talking about it for a page and a half already. It is not a great romance (I hit that wall at the end, Ms. Milan, and it hurts, oh lord, it hurts) but it is an amazing book.
It is a 9.5, and yes, that is the highest I've rated a book in any of my reviews on LJ.