A Little Something Different by Sandy Hall
Published: August 26th, 2014 by Swoon Reads
Genres: Young adult, contemporary romance, fiction
Trigger Warnings: alcohol consumption, car accidents, relationships, injury
Pages: 272 pgs.
The distinctive new crowdsourced publishing imprint Swoon Reads proudly presents its first published novel—an irresistibly sweet romance between two college students told from 14 different viewpoints.
The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.
But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.
Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….
If it takes a village to raise a child properly, then, apparently, it takes a whole college town to get two awkward lovebirds together. In Sandy Hall’s YA debut, A Little Something Different, she tells the story of two young college students whose blossoming romance is more than just coincidence: it’s mostly done through the meddling of everyone — and everything — around them. This unique contribution to the contemporary YA romance genre was a surprising delight among a genre quickly going stale.
Following two young co-eds, Gabe and Lea, A Little Something Different chronicles their burgeoning love through the perspectives of fourteen friends, professors, baristas, and squirrels. Over the course of a school year, perpetually shy Gabe has fallen head over heels for Lea, the quiet and giggly freshman in his creative writing class. Lea’s noticed him, too; it’s hard to miss the tall, cute guy in her dorm that places the exact same Chinese takeout order she does. But they’re still unsure about pursuing a relationship. Luckily, literally everyone sees the sparks flying around them — and they’ll make sure that they’re a couple before the year is out.
The most noteworthy thing is, as previously mentioned, Hall’s decision to write through the eyes and experiences of all of the significant people — and things — Lea and Gabe have interacted with as their bond grows. Deciding to any multiple perspectives, let alone fourteen, throughout the course of one book is a great undertaking for a newer author. I commend Hall’s execution on this arduous task, as it was executed in such a way that swapping between these characters did not become cumbersome as the plot moved along. Instead, the rotating perspectives helped to continue scenes and fill in gaps where they might have otherwise been lost. At no point did this device feel forced or the characters lost in translation. I really was impressed.
Additionally, her writing is so casual and easy to read. While it took me a few weeks from start to finish with this book, it mostly stemmed from me putting it down to tend to other reading projects. I’m always pleased when I can put something down for a few days and not feel like I’m lagging behind, or having to read back a few chapters to catch up. When it comes to contemporary YA romance, I really don’t feel like I should have to work too hard to resume after putting the book on pause for a short time, like some of the others I’ve come across lately (looking at you, Twisted Sisters).
Hall also did a great job in making A Little Something Different as inclusive and diverse as possible. This book featured queer characters (married lesbian women!!!), main characters of color (Lia is Chinese, her best friend/roommate is Latinx, their other friend is black), disabled characters (Gabe is Deaf following a car accident). I wish there were a trans character, but, still, the representation here is astounding. Furthermore, Hall didn’t fall into the reductionist trap that so many white writers do when they attempt to write diverse characters: making them nothing more than stereotypes of the groups to which they belong. I appreciate the effort she put in to make these folks seem as real as possible.
However, I’m not going to say that this book was the most perfect, revolutionary thing that has ever happened to the genre. While Hall hit a lot of the right notes in the foundation of the book — the storytelling, the diversity, the ease of reading — I did find it lacking in overall substance. There was very little chemistry between the Lea and Gabe when they did interact, but the other characters constantly spouted how perfect they were for each other. I really felt like Hall was stooping down to tell us of their attraction towards one another, rather than just showing us. If the two main characters don’t really show any form of attraction or chemistry with each other, then what’s the point of the book?
Additionally, I thought there were some choices made within the story that didn’t really add much to it other than to add an extra quirky flair. A perspective from a squirrel? A park bench? I get that this is YA and is, realistically, trying to appeal to a slightly younger audience than me, but I just felt like some of these elements were more juvenile than anything. What are we, as readers, supposed to gain about this relationship from a park bench that goes on and on about how perfect of an ass Gabe possesses?
Overall, A Little Something Different was exactly what it says on the tin. I liked the bold choice of trying to present a cohesive romance between two characters from a litany of outsider perspectives. The book was a fun, lighthearted romp perfect for the early springtime reader. However, I did feel that there were some more juvenile elements thrown into the mix for seemingly no reason and lack of attraction between the main characters, which took away from the overall effectiveness of the book.
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