Monday, July 18, 2016

It Had to Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Phoebe Summerville is like a cross between Elle Woods and Peg Bundy - she's rich, she's tacky, everyone writes her off as a dumb bimbo. However, she's quite a bit more clever and complicated than anyone gives her credit for, including her father, who disliked her so much that he decided to screw with her from beyond the grave: instead of being disinherited as per his original plan, he's giving her his football team, the Chicago Stars, for a year. If the team loses the NFL playoffs, she gets $100,000 and ownership reverts to her icky cousin, Reed. If she wins, she keeps the team. Damned if she does, damned if she doesn't.

Dan Calebow, the coach of the Stars, is highly displeased when he finds out who the new owner is. He's even more displeased when he finds himself inexplicably attracted to her. I know the Goodreads blurb describes him as "a sexist jock taskmaster with a one-track mind", but this doesn't even come close to describing what a piece of work this man is, and what he does to Phoebe.

First, let me say that I loved the premise behind this book. I love books that show that women can be fashionable, girly, ditzy, and smart. Legally Blonde and Clueless are two of my favorite movies, and for a while I thought this book was going to be like that, with Phoebe learning more about management and football while also teaching the players "the bend and snap." Because Phoebe was a great character, and her tacky, over-the-top 90s outfits are all kinds of awesome.

My problem with the book is Dan. Just Dan. And while it seems a bit harsh, I know, to lower the ratings of a book so dramatically just because one of the characters ticked me off, Dan is the love interest and one of the narrators, so he's kind of inescapable. In the first scene from his POV, we're led to believe that he's having sex with a sixteen-year-old high school cheerleader. In actuality, it's his ex-wife, Valerie, who likes to play kinky roleplaying games, but I felt like I was led on way too long into thinking that this hero is actually the type of man to sleep with underage women.

Minus one.

Dan is also kind of creepy. Even as he's having kinky sex with his ex-wife, he's shopping for the next one, and eventually hones in on a preschool teacher named Sharon Anderson. So he's dating this girl while having sex with his ex-wife and having sexual thoughts about Phoebe. The worst part is, Sharon never finds out about any of this. Dan breaks up with her eventually, and tells her it's because she wasn't what he was looking for after all, and that's the end of it. Poor Sharon never finds out.

Minus two.

At one point, Dan and his ex-wife are planning rape play. When Phoebe drops by unexpectedly, Dan mistakes her for his ex-wife and drags her off into the woods while saying all these threatening things. Phoebe, who is a rape victim, freaks out, and Dan doesn't realize anything is wrong until she starts screaming. His excuse is that it's dark. And he doesn't really feel as sorry as he should have.

Minus three.

Towards the end of the book, Dan tells Phoebe that he doesn't feel comfortable dating someone with the power to fire him.

Minus four.

Also, the inclusion of this line:
What good were curvy hips and full breasts if she couldn't let a man caress them, if they would never bring a baby into the world or nuture its new life? (142)

Minus five.

And the inclusion of this line:
Phoebe was a curvy, buxom , good-time girl, custom-designed by God for just this kind of romp (239).

Minus six.

Plus, there were some weird stylistic choices in the narrative style that just felt odd to me. For example:

Her curved hips swayed in a sassy walk that seemed to have a language all its own

Hot cha cha
Hot cha cha
Hot hot
Cha cha cha cha

I have no idea if this is a reference to something or what it's supposed to mean, but the author seems to like it, because she repeats it several times. She has a couple favorite words that are also repeated several times, like "peek-a-boo", "sassy", and "delirious."

This line was kind of weird as well.

Like plantation slaves, the National Football League's Chicago Stars had come to pay homage to the man who owned them (5).

In addition to Dan, I also despised Molly, Phoebe's younger half-sister. She's such a sh*t to her sister, despite everything Phoebe does for her. Molly's not happy at school? Phoebe changes schools for her. Molly's not happy at home? She gets to live with Phoebe. Molly feels drab? Phoebe offers to go clothes shopping with her. How does Molly repay her? By putting her down and making her feel bad about herself every chance she gets, and at one point, telling a stranger (Dan) that Phoebe hits her.

How does Dan react to this? In the end, he pretty much laughs it off. It becomes a joke at the end.

I loved Phoebe's character and I liked how she talked about what good people her horrible father's wives were. She never slut-shames any of her stepmothers and at one point says that they're strong women because they were survivors who did the best they could to live their lives. I also loved her interactions with the players and with Ron, and her locker room speech was really cute. I also liked how when she found out about Dan going out with Sharon, she didn't blame Sharon. She blamed Dan. Isn't that refreshing? Blaming the cheater instead of the cheatee? I thought so.

Phoebe was clever and a schemer, and she wasn't afraid to live her life. Even though she was raped, and suffered blow after blow to her self-esteem, she learned to take advantage of the male gaze, and how to cow male bullies by beating them at their own game. She was a wonderful, complicated, quirky heroine, and it made me so sad to see her paired off with such a terrible, terrible hero.

The dated 90s references were so amusing. Rows of payphones in a locker room? Chokers? LOL.

P.S. Donald Trump makes a random paragraph-long cameo.

2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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