The Romantics is a short “rom-com” novel, featuring a protagonist disillusioned with love and his two love-interests… though he fails to acknowledge his one-true-soulmate, who is standing on the sidelines of this love triangle. It is also author Leah Konen’s third book; she has previously written The After Girls and The Last Time We Were Us, though I have read neither of them.
If you like romantic comedies, you’ll be better prepared for this book than I was. I have an amicable relationship with the genre: most pass over my radar, but there are a few that I like. If The Romantics had been a movie, I probably would have made a hard pass; but it caught my attention as a book because it features the amorphous, metaphysical, divine entity of love as its primary narrator. Love has messed up and is trying to clean up the mess afterwards. A young man named Gael has been dating Ankita for a while; he’s infatuated with her, but finds that a week after her drops “I love you,” on her, she cheats on him with his best friend. Gael is heartbroken from both betrayals, but finds himself getting caught up in a whirlwind romance with the spirited, effortless Cara, who wields hot-sauce like ketchup and likes to go on hiking adventures.
If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while, you know that the one thing I hate more than anything else in the literary world is the LOVE TRIANGLE CLICHE. It is honestly such an overused, underwhelming trope that generates more frustration and disgust than interest in the plot. So, Pratyu, you hypocrite, why did you pick up a book whose main plot is literally a love triangle? Because the synopsis describes it as “The more Love meddles, the further Gael drifts from the one girl who can help him mend his heart. Soon Love starts breaking all her own rules—and in order to set Gael’s fate back on course, she has to make some tough decisions about what it means to truly care.”
I thought that love would make this discovery that hey, sometimes romance comes out of the blue and you can’t control everybody, free will and yadda yadda. I thought love would be learning something. But no. I don’t even know what this last line has to do with the book at all, because I didn’t see love discovering anything about “what it means to truly care.” Gael learned a lesson for sure, but the whole book was love patting itself (herself?) on the back.
Also: this thing about love breaking all her rules. She breaks like one or two, and there’s no consequence to that, so I don’t understand why this was also featured as A Big Thing in the summary.
Let’s talk about characters. Gael surprised me because usually, books focusing on romance feature female leads. It was nice to see a guy’s perspective. I was a bit worried that he’d be like Jaxon from Cure for the Common Universe, but he managed to avoid coming off as a prick. Also, the source of Gael’s misery makes sense: his parents are getting divorced out of the blue, and his girlfriend (who he thinks he loved) cheated on him with his best friend (since elementary school). I felt bad for the guy. And the contents of the story made me sympathize even more.
Most of the people that Gael is friends with, are friends with his best friend and Ankita. In fact, Ankita’s best friend chastises Gael at one point of the story for “slut-shaming Ankita at a restaurant.” What was this slut-shaming? Well, Gael’s mom invites Ankita and Mason (best friend) to Gael’s birthday dinner. Gael sits there stewing from his recent break-up, how his friends have treated him, and the fact that his parents are trying to act all happy and normal despite the fact that they are splitting up. Sometime during the dinner, he blows up at Ankita and shouts angrily to his parents that she cheated on him with Mason, then storms out of the restaurant.
That was the slut-shaming. Gael calling Ankita out on what she did. Which is totally reasonable, especially considering that all the remorse that Ankita and Mason seem to show is totally shallow (weak apologies, excuses, etcetera etcetera).
What the heck, Leah Konen? Her message gets even more convoluted throughout the story. She seems to be pushing a feminist perspective — which I would usually support, because I do consider myself a feminist — but calling someone out on cheating =/= slut-shaming, just because they’re a girl. Also, Cara, the love interest: she is your typical dream girl character, but love derides her for everything she does simply because she doesn’t follow the narrative that love wants her to. I’m associating love with Leah Konen, by the way, because it seems like love is the “author” of the story of “Gael and X, his soulmate”. Also, love is the mouthpiece for Ms. Konen’s philosophies, and while this can be done gracefully, this book shoves the author’s messages down your throat. This is what feminism is. This is what modern romance should be like. This is what love should be like. There’s this point where Gael forgives Ankita and says something like “life is too short to not be with the person you love,” which in any other case I would fully support, but in this context… he makes it sound like “oh it’s okay to cheat on someone because LOVE ya know, LOVE is the greatest thing and you should sacrifice everything for LOVE.” which, no. Hurting people for such a selfish reason is unforgivable.
My main problem with the book is that our narrator is unlikable. Love is patronizing, smug, and acts like Gael, Ankita, Mason, and all the other people in this story are little pawns for her to play with. She even admits to being the reason for Mason’s parents’ divorce, having been too lazy to check up on them ever few years and remind them of the good times or something.
This book was not for me. I wouldn’t recommend it because of how much I disliked “love”, and because it acted as a soapbox for Ms. Konen to preach her ideas about feminism and romance. Hopefully one day, I’ll stumble upon a good book about love; but I’m starting to think more and more that the genre isn’t for me. I guess, if you have read this story (and I mean even if you haven’t, context clues should be enough) I’d fall under what Love labels “Cynics”.