You know those 90s makeover movies where the guy feels like he ought to have "first dibs" on the newly beautiful girl because he liked her when she was "ugly"? This book is basically a gender-flipped version of that, except it's between annoying brat of a heroine and a hero who has Asperger's, and she feels super possessive of him because she feels like she's the only person who treated him like he was "normal" before everyone else realized that he was just a normal, even cool guy too. You know what the problem with that is, though? You're assuming that you deserve gold stars for just treating people the way they want to be treated. And this 'heroine' right here? She wants all the gold stars.
PUDDLE JUMPING has a 4.22 average rating among my friends, so I was expecting to like it. I wasn't expecting to hate it, or have it fill me with disgust - which it did. First problem for me is that the writing style feels really amateurish and is super chatty, with tons of pointless asides from the narrator that add nothing to the plot. I was willing to roll with it in the beginning, because it's written from the POV of the 'heroine' as a child, but the problem continues - and worsens - over the course of the story. It's just bad writing.
Second problem, the treatment of the hero with Asperger's. The whole 'romance' is basically the heroine's big crusade to make the hero her big makeover project. Right away, she goes up to this other girl who's also dating a neurodivergent guy and starts asking for tips. She Googles Asperger's and is totally shocked that people with Asperger's are people, too. She gets a big stick up her bum when the hero gets a job and skips out on prom (not somewhere someone with Asperger's might want to go) to work at his new job, which he loves, and gives him a big lecture about how she is just as important as his job, and then gets his mom on his case to make sure he follows up on all their subsequent dates. At the end of the book, the hero gets an amazing opportunity to pursue his dreams abroad, and the heroine storms out of his party without congratulating him, because she had his future planned out for him and this goes against her plans. She felt like she should have been consulted first, and wants to make him stay. His mom actually has to come over and explain to this 'heroine' what a great job she did with her son, and butter her up to make her cool with it.
The constant tone of superiority and condescension hanging over this book like a cloud really put me off. At first, I wondered if I was maybe being too harsh on this book, so I kept reading, and the more I read, the less I liked. By the time I got to the end, I couldn't brush aside my qualms anymore. It had this galling "savior" tone to it, like the heroine was making it her personal mission to "humanize" the neurodivergent and it was her own personal discovery, and she expected all the awards for it. I went to look at the negative reviews for this book once I had finished and saw, to my relief, that I was not alone. Some people used the word "fetishization" and I think that's the word that was escaping me: Colton's hotness was basically used as an excuse to make him worth pursuing, in spite of what made him different, and the entire journey was one-sided and written entirely from a privileged, ableist perspective about how brave people are who bother befriending those who are different.
Thirdly, I really didn't like the slut-shaming and the way sexuality is treated in this book. It's a short book, and yet the 'heroine' is constantly making jabs at her friend, Harper. Oh, and this girl who gets chlamydia from a tanning bed is called "Chlam-face" - by the heroine, no less. Is the heroine innocent and pure? Of course. She's so innocent and pure that she's too afraid to get birth control from her parents, so she has a friend steal her some from a clinic. #InnocentAndPureFTW
For better romance novels about neurodiversity, I'd suggest K.J. Charles's AN UNSEEN ATTRACTION, and Jennifer Ashley's THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE. Both are historical fiction, unfortunately, since I don't read too many contemporary romances, but I thought both did a fairly good job with this - although I will be honest that THE MADNESS (as the title might suggest) comes across as dated and shares many of the same issues as PUDDLE JUMPING.
This was a pretty terrible book. I took a nap before reviewing it so I wouldn't sound *too* cranky, but it still made me pretty irritated (as you can probably tell, haha). I wouldn't recommend it.
1 to 1.5 out of 5 stars