PERFECT ON PAPER — Sophie Gonzales

“Self-Analysis: Darcy Phillips
Is not set in stone.”

— Sophie Gonzales, Perfect on Paper

This is the (mostly) spoiler-free review of this novel. If you’re also interested in a transcript of my reading journal discussing internalised biphobia and bi erasure, you can find it on my Patreon.

Darcy Phillips has a secret. It’s not that she’s smart, kind, stubborn, generous, impulsive, or occasionally jealous.

Her secret… is Locker 89.

A prestigious private school’s favourite agony aunt, scholarship student and teacher’s daughter Darcy has her work cut out for her. She’s the genius behind the infamous dating and relationship service dispensed through a layer of secrecy and anonymity that’s becoming increasingly thin when none other than the annoyingly handsome Alexander Brougham discovers her identity. It sets in motion a cascade of events that will shake up St. Deodetus’s foundations. Or, at the very least, the lives of a bunch of lovable youngsters trying to find their place in the world.

Darcy is perfect — on paper. She also messes up, big time. Not just once. I think it’s that which makes her more likeable and relatable to me. She does rationalise things to herself and she does avoid coming clean for far too long, but it’s clear from the start that she knows when she screws up. It’s the fixing that’s hard and painful and scary, but in the end she does it; and it’s that character growth that not just Darcy goes through that makes this story incredibly human. It takes the pressure off thinking you have to be perfect.

Oh, Brougham. I love him so much. As a huge fan of slow burn, his responses pushing Darcy away to convince himself that he can get over her hurt my soul so deeply… and so good. Their very much accidental courtship was so sweet and well done — opening up to each other as they become friends for no other reason than that they care about others who need a helping hand or a sympathetic ear; clearing up misunderstandings; learning how the other communicates… feels good, feels organic. Alexander is a kind, funny, complex kid, and I love him a lot. He’s just a good dude!

No-one in the supporting cast ever feels like a stereotypical representation of or stand-in for their identity or background. Ainsley is wonderful and also: her deadname is dead. I appreciate that so much. I’m cis, but I have so often seen curiosity about deadnames as one big reason (of many) why trans people don’t trust us — and they’re right! For as long as we can’t accept that we have zero business with people’s deadnames, we haven’t earned that trust.

Darcy, meanwhile, does mourn extensively the demise of a potential relationship. The spiral is real, kids, and at the same time as I was telling Darc to use her head and not be so down on herself, I remember well enough feeling the exact same way about crushes I had at school; complete with that irrational self-loathing, ‘you’re just not good enough.’ Ugh, poor kid. While she is generally self-aware and super perceptive about others (except for missing Brougham’s obvious devotion by a country mile, oh my god Darcy), the writing walks the fine line between self-awareness and the abject despair of being a teenager and all that insight going the way of the devil expertly. Hormones! What’s your excuse?

Perfect on Paper is written in a clear, compassionate, tongue-in-cheek voice that makes me want to read more-more-more from Sophie Gonzales. It was just a joy to read. I laughed, I teared up a bit (fine, more than a bit), I laughed some more, and then all too soon it was over.

If you’re looking for a sweet, generous, well-written romance that shows communication and queerness as major themes in relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial) and figuring out your own identity, then this is the book for you 😊

Genre YA Romance, Contemporary
Narrative voice Third-Person
Pairing(s) M/F (main), F/F
Content warnings Internalised biphobia
Maturity rating 14+
Rating 🌈🌈🌈🌈

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