I’ll be the first to admit it – I always judge books by their covers.
I don’t even mean this in a metaphorical sense. I literally judge books by their covers.
And I really shouldn’t – because this is one of the occasions where I was wrong.
I had a big clearout of my bedroom recently. Re-organised all the cupboards and clothes and threw a lot away. In the process I found a lot of books. A lot, a lot. And I had barely read any of them. So I neatly stored them in a box on top of my wardrobe and ever since I have been trying to read through them in the hopes that I can then recycle them afterwards.
This was my first book of the challenge – ‘Just a girl, standing in front of a boy by Lucy-Anne Holmes
As I mentioned- first impressions weren’t great. I think I actually got given this book as a Christmas present from my mum, looked at the cover, read the blurb, thought ‘nah’ and left it hidden.
First impressions from the cover, title and blurb were that this was just another cringey romance novel. Punctuated by sickly romance, a far too good looking male lead, a wilting flower of a protagonist, who is plain, but in the sort of ‘size 6 Hollywood actress plain’ that can easily be translated into a tv movie.
I’ll admit, in the first few pages I was still under this impression. But I pretty quickly realised I was barking up the wrong tree. We are introduced to the protagonist, Jenny Taylor, aka Fanny (long story) a 27 year old doctor’s surgery receptionist with a ‘history of depression.’ In order to quell said depression, her best friend, Phillipa wrote a list of ten things she ‘must do every day or she shall burn all her clothes!’ A.K.A ‘The Smiling Manifesto’
Weird start I’ll admit. At this point I was still thinking this whole thing was utterly cringey. Bit like the Spice Girls movie but in written form. But then as we are very speedily introduced to Phillipa – who gives her bizarre Friday work outfits, such as ‘Budget Airline hostess’ and ‘Yoga Teacher with Penchant for Tantric Sex’, her housemate Al – who she drunkenly met while ordering cheesy chips and beans on a night out (always a good idea) and her mother, albeit by telephone.
And with that, I was absorbed in the mad world of Fanny Taylor.
The pace of this novel was incredible, within the first few pages we are also introduced to Fanny’s very-nice-but-a-bit-dull boyfriend Matt, who met her due to one of her Smiling Manifesto tasks – ‘9) do a good deed’
Her and Phillipa decided the girl he was on a date with looked like she’d rather be elsewhere, they slipped her a note to cheer her up, he thought they’d stolen from her bag, shouting ensued. Not the most romantic meeting. After bumping into him several times, one thing let to another, turns out neither of them were as bad as they’d thought, and they became one. Oh, but Phillipa does not approve. At all.
The next thing we know, Fanny’s mum (who hardly sees her) turns up at her work, tells her that her nasty dad has had an affair and left, and dumps herself on Fanny. Only Fanny is going out for dinner with Boyfriend Matt that night. So mum is awkwardly dumped at Fanny’s flat, while Fanny goes out with Matt.
Who then proposes.
In a pod on the London Eye. Although she’s afraid of heights. And has her eyes shut. And when she opens them she voms. She says yes. But she’s vommed.
See. They’re a match made in heaven.
And then all of a sudden we meet Joe King. Yep, real name. And he is hot. If they did a remake of Love Actually he would defo be in it. Messy hair, slight muscles, funny, charming, slightly flirty, skinny jeans. So Love Actually.
And we keep meeting him. He just seems to keep appearing. And he seems so much better suited to Fanny than Matt does. Which is pretty obvious to everyone.
But Fanny has bigger things to think about. Like the fact that her mum has just got dumped and is suddenly having the life she was never allowed. She’s going slightly wild to be honest. Getting with people half her age, having mad nights out, asking for drugs, doing drugs. She does the whole getting dumped for you mate Sue thing very very well. And although her and Fan never really had a great relationship (blame the aggressive father, it always is) they start to develop a new relationship. Which is really, really endearing.
But while that relationship flourishes, her relationship with Matt is not as expected for newly engaged couples. Especially when your best friend so despises said couple.
In truth, you can’t blame her. Matt is a low-key arsehole. One of those guys who seems nice and well put together and a bit out of your league to be honest, but is actually like a scratchcard you think you’ve earnt the jackpot on. Except when you scratch away the foil surface you realise you didn’t even get the £4 booby prize.
He’s a faux nice-guy. One who will ever so condescendingly tell you that you are wrong, that his way is right and proper and correct and that, bless you, it’s nice that you’ve tried but we just don’t do that sort of thing. The sort of guy who gets embarrassed over you all the time. The one who doesn’t invite you to his work dos. We’ve all dated them and we all know they suck. And he is one of them. So you kind of can’t blame Phillipa at all for hating him. She knows.
She knows quite a lot actually. She’s the sort of friend you want to have, but also definitely want to be. And her relationship with Fanny is great. Because they’re not cool like all the romance book friendships seem to be. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and they’re super cringey and they say it how it is but it just works so well. And she gives great advice. Albeit somewhat blunt. But she’s good. They’re all great. Except Matt, who is still an areshole.
And so, the books continues you take you on a wild journey through Fanny’s life. You also meet her favourite patient, Doris, who is a wild O.A.P and full of energy, and Marge, her co-receptionist, among others. It’s a rollercoaster, that seemed way more about romance than it was. Fair enough, there is some romance, but it’s not nearly as cringey as I was expecting. It’s lovely and endearing and complicated and confusing and actually just seems pretty real. And Fanny is a flawed character. Which is so refreshing. She’s not pretentious or weirdly mysterious. She makes the sort of mistakes that we all think we know better than but we all end up making any how.
She does stupid stuff and says stupid stuff and thinks stupid stuff. And so do her friends and her mother and her other half.
And towards the end of this book I got really scared.
I haven’t mentioned yet that I started reading it at 10pm and continued until I finished at 3am. There were a lot of twists and turns towards the end and I was getting very scared that I was running out of pages and things hadn’t turned out right. A lot of the ending was very expected. But it was amazing. It made sense. It didn’t seem like it was added for shock factor or just to be different. It all make sense, and provoked a lot of ‘aha!’ moments.
And I didn’t run out of pages. The thing that you end up rooting for does happen. But it happens in a realistic way. It’s not forced, it’s not fake, it’s not cringey. It’s real. So’s the whole book.
I laughed, I cried, and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when it all came together.
And on the last page I gasped in shock.