I have enjoyed Kasie West's books in the past. She is a wonderful voice to have in the world of female YA writers who write about the experiences of girls. Her books are always enjoyable, but The Fill-In Boyfriend was particularly excellent.
Gia is about to walk into her senior prom and prove to her friends, once and for all, that her college boyfriend, Bradley, really does exist. The problem is Bradley breaks up with Gia and leaves her standing in the parking lot. In a desperate move to ensure her friends believe her, Gia conscripts the assistance of a random boy sitting in his car who just dropped off his sister and her date. But Gia's Fill-In boyfriend, Hayden, is quite intriguing in his own right. When his sister forces Gia to go to a party with him thrown by his ex-girlfriend, Gia becomes even more convinced he is a truly good guy and she genuinely begins to like him. She also begins to develop a friendship with his sister as she starts to realize that her family relationships and friendships are lacking in depth. Then her brother does something that causes her to question her life, her need for validation, and how she's contributed to the shallowness of the relationships in her life.
The Fill-In Boyfriend is one of the best teen romances I've read. The chemistry between Hayden and Gia sparks and fizzes from their first sentences spoken to each other. The banter between them is truly fantastic, but also realistically teen in nature. I also enjoyed how both of them have some growing up to do, and they have a positive effect on each other. At first I was worried that Hayden might be a little too awesome of a hero. He's easy to fall for, but West did a good job of showing his weaknesses too. Gia is the star of this story as it is told from her point of view. Her growth in this book is excellent as well and is a realistic look at how one might come to see the need to reevaluate one's life approaching a major milestone.
As much as I loved the relationship between Hayden and Gia, it was the portrayal of female friendship that made this book shine for me. Gia has three close friends and their group is super popular, but Gia is always playing a part when she is with them. Jules, a newer member of their group, seems focused on ousting Gia. I really liked the way this entire dynamic was handled. West showed how people can grown away from each other and face roadblocks in a friendship that seem insurmountable without resorting to cliches or cutout caricatures. Every single one of Gia's friends have motivations and layers that are evident (including Jules), and Gia is certainly not completely innocent of the wrongs her friends become upset over. And I love how messy and complicated this situation still was in the end. Gia's growing friendship with Hayden's sister, Bec, is also a plus to the story. It is a newer friendship, but the two of them bonding is fun reading. I enjoyed that almost as much as the Hayden/Gia scenes.
I also liked how the family dynamics played out as the contrast between Gia's family and Hayden's family is important to her journey of self discover as is her fraught relationship with her brother.
This novel is perfect for anyone who enjoys stories of human growth and questioning, friendship, family, and, of course, romance.