Sometimes, Love Doesn’t Happen by the Book

By the Book

By the Book by Amanda Sellet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The times we had together were the closest my life has ever come to the kind of moments that could be in a book.

Mary Porter Malcolm

This is me forcing myself to overcome a writing slump because I NEED to review this book. It’s definitely one of my favorite 2020 releases and now one of my inspirations for my work in progress. Also, I must say that reading this novel was a breath of fresh air after I endured a particularly bad retelling of Anna Karenina. The main character’s disdain for Vronsky was so on point!

By the Book is like a YA combination of Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice. Mary Porter Malcolm is like Elizabeth Bennet. She loves to read, she loves her big family, and she has a good head on her shoulders. However, she doesn’t have a social life, and she wants to change that in her new school. There, she meets Arden, a redhead who, similar to Emma Woodhouse, is in the business/hobby of matchmaking. Mary uses her profound knowledge of the classics to befriend Arden and two other girls (Lydia and Terry). Inspired by the flirty antics of Alex Ritter (the campus Vronsky), Mary and her companions start working on a dating manual entitled The Scoundrel Survival Guide. It’s all fun and games, but Alex might not be a scoundrel after all.

I loved Mary’s relationship with Alex because it was reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice. Mary’s initial opinion of Alex was entirely based on a misunderstanding. Since the story was told from her perspective, he really did seem like a debonair playboy. So when Alex finally had the chance to explain himself, the moment of truth was utterly hilarious. Mary had more scenes with her female friends, but this made her interactions with Alex more exciting and remarkable. And because of Mary’s critical attitude, the growth of their feelings was organic. This is one of the reasons why I like the enemies-to-lovers trope.

Another thing that I adored was Mary’s rowdy family. Imagine the Weasleys of the HP series but make all of the characters book-obsessed. Even the youngest child, who was 13 years old, had read all of Jane Austen’s novels. Moreover, unlike most YA protagonists, Mary was very honest with her parents. She didn’t mind sharing her problems, as personal as they seemed. I guess the family dynamics in this book were autobiographical since the author also grew up in a big household. Mary’s banter with her parents and siblings made me nostalgic. Because of the pandemic, it’s been months since I’ve enjoyed a meal with my parents.

My last compliment goes to Mary herself. I loved reading her diary entries at the start of each chapter because they reflected many of my own sentiments: the disdain of watching a movie before reading the book, the desire to have a spectacular life, and the temptation to avoid conflict and skip to the happy parts of books. The general tone of the narrative is something that I want to achieve: snarky but with a touch of innocence and wit.

Ultimately, By the Book now sits on my shelf of favorites because of its smile-worthy content. I can see myself rereading it when I need more motivation to write fiction. If you need a story to cheer you up during these stressful times, Mary’s literary observations might do the trick.