Tina Chen is a hard working college student trying very hard to make ends meet. It doesn’t help that the money she sends home to her parents goes towards her mother’s vocation rather than paying the bills or ensuring that her younger sister gets her medication. After several people in one of her classes asserts that poor people simply need to try harder, Tina snaps and contradicts that none of these people, especially the insanely wealthy Blake Reynolds, have any idea what it’s like to be poor. Rather than angering Blake, it actually sparks an idea.
Blake realizes that Tina is right. He doesn’t have any idea what it’s like to be poor. He’s always been rich as the son of a tech genius (think the Apple empire). So Blake makes Tina a proposition; they’ll switch lives.
“You were right the other day,” he says smoothly. “I’m clueless. I don’t know what it’s like to be you, or anyone like you, and I want to fix that. I offer a trade. I work your hours. I pay your rent. I live in your apartment.”
“It’s so cute that you think I live in an apartment,” I interject.
“You get my house, my care, my allowance. You take over my duties at Cyclone, too – to the extent that’s possible. We’ll have to talk about that. There are details to work out. But that’s the gist of it.”
He shrugs, like what he has set forth is no big deal, and I’m left to boggle at him. There are so many things wrong with this that I don’t even know where to start (p. 37-38).
Now the set up to Trade Me doesn’t sound particularly original, but since Milan is an awesome romance writer, it quickly becomes more because, as always, Milan writes great characters that have real problems. There is a very big reason why Blake wants to switch lives with Tina and it’s not just to prove that he can live on a lack of funds. He needs time, time to figure out his own problems and hopefully conquer them. Unfortunately, what Blake’s struggling can’t be fixed with time. I don’t want to give away what Blake’s going through, but it was unexpected and I really appreciate the fact that the author choose to have a guy struggle with this.
I have to admit I was very skeptical when I learned that Milan was writing a contemporary romance, and a new adult one at that. Quite frankly, I don’t like the new adult genre and I rarely read contemporary romance. However, I think Milan’s historical romances are amazing, so my loyalty to this author had me reading this one. I was pleasantly surprised by Trade Me. Like Milan’s historicals, Trade Me had an unexpected emotional depth that I think is often overlooked in the romance genre. Too often do romances feel formulaic, and what I like about Milan is that she often changes the formula giving readers a much better developed love story and original characters. Readers are actually treated to the emotions that characters are experience, even those outside of the romance. For example, in Trade Me Tina has so many emotions with regards to her family. And Tina’s concerns are not easily overcome and these worries inform the type of person Tina is.
Tina has a tough family situation. Her mother is devoted to helping other Chinese refugees get permanent citizenship in the U.S., and this is often at the expense of her family and always at the expense of Tina’s financial support. When Tina’s mother once again uses her contribution to help a refugee financially, Tina just feels helpless and angry.
I can feel my entire future slipping from my fingers.
I don’t know Jack Sheng, but right now, I hate him. I hate him so much for needing my money. I hate him because I’ve heard his story a hundred times before – tortured because he practiced Falun Gong in China, escaped to the US, and is now being sent back home.
This is what Blake Reynolds will never understand: that when he and his father give money to charities, it never hurts them. To them, it’s just a check. It makes them feel good. It’s a pat on the back, He will never understand what it means to hate someone over thirty dollars. He probably spends more than thirty dollars on his jeans. Fuck. I don’t know what rich people spend on jeans. He would probably scoff at the idea that you could get a pair of jeans for thirty bucks (p. 28-29).
Tina wants to support her family and her educational decisions are based on making sure that she will be able to make decent money to financially carry them. But what’s great about Trade Me is you understand Tina’s resentment that she has to do this. She loves her family, but it would be nice if they could actually take care of themselves and she could experience some of the freedom of college life. I love that both Tina and Blake are character’s outside of their romantic storyline. Outside of their relationship Tina and Blake have real worries and because of these responsibilities readers get the sense that their eventual relationship is all the more developed and nuanced.
Has Milan made me a convert to the new adult genre? No. I’m never going to love new adult (which is why I only gave this a 3/5) and historical romance will always be my romance subgenre of choice. But, I can appreciate Trade Me for the characters if not the contemporary setting. The elements that I like about Milan’s writing are all present in Trade Me and I think she gives readers of the new adult subgenre something a little unique because of her ability to create great, lifelike characters.
*Review copy provided by the author via NetGalley.
For the other new adult book that I actually liked, see Laura Layne’s Isn’t She Lovely. It has the same class difference that’s evident in Trade Me, and it was also a fairly emotional read. Like Trade Me, I felt Isn’t She Lovely is actually a good example of the new adult genre.