Arranged marriages and fake relationships are my FAVORITE romance trope. I don't know what this says about my relationship goals - probably bad things - but whatever, I like what I like, and nothing screams "auto-buy!" like a book that has one of these tropes in its blurb. When I found out that WHEN IT'S REAL was about a fake relationship between a normal girl and a pop star as a publicity stunt to boost his image, I was like HELLS YEAH! Also it was by the same cracktastic author duo that brought the Hana Yori Dango-esque PAPER PRINCESS into my life. Peace.
WHEN IT'S REAL stars Vaughn Bennett and Oakley "Daddy Issues" Ford (barf). Vaughn is an orphan who works as a waitress to take care of her young twin brothers, with the help of her sister, Paisley. Oakley Ford (barf) is a Justin Bieber-esque pop star who wants to be taken seriously as an artist, but no one will do that because of his party boy lifestyle. The solution? A fake relationship with an ordinary good girl to make him seem like his priorities are sorted.
Conveniently enough, Paisley happens to work at the same business as Oakley's agent and publicist and when they see the picture of Vaughn on Paisley's desk, they're like, "That's the girl!" The two of them hate each other at first, but Oakley admires Vaughn for being such a spunky lil' orphan, and Vaughn feels sorry for Oakley for having daddy issues, and truly, it is a match made in pity.
I loved PAPER PRINCESS and wanted to love this, but I just couldn't. WHEN IT'S REAL was lame and had so many problems. First, the hero's name sounds like a car dealership. It was impossible to take him seriously, since every time I heard his name in the narrative, it felt like someone was trying to sell me a truck. I also didn't care for him much - he was pretty dull and childish. Not very romantic. Vaughn was also annoying in her own way, and I felt like the author(s) were trying too hard to make her a figure of pity - to the point where she didn't really have any hobbies or interests. It kind of felt like she was defined as being poor and spunky, which wasn't all that interesting.
Second, let's talk about W (all the guys in this book have TERRIBLE names). W is Vaughn's real boyfriend who agrees to sign the nondisclosure agreement because of the money Vaughn will get (and also because she promised to promote his stupid YouTube channel). In order to set up Vaughn and Oakley guilt-free, the authors make W the most repulsive human being possible. He also cheats on Vaughn and claims he "didn't want to do it" but that it "just happened." Which is the classic douchebag Steve excuse, if you ask me. Especially since the excuse that he gives her - jealousy over the pictures of her and Oakley - turned out to be a lie because he cheated before they came out. So either he stalked her and saw it in person, or he did it for funsies and tried to drag her down to his level to rationalize his POS mentality. Either way, I was so not a fan of W - but it also felt like a very cheap plot device to make us, the readers, love Oakley for treating Vaughn like a human being instead of a sex object, and I think we can all agree that basic human decency is no reason for a relationship.
Third, let's talk about how the sexual assault in this book was totally glossed over? Oakley's band mate, Luke, puts the moves on Vaughn when she is puke-your-guts-out drunk. I think if you're so drunk you're throwing up (early stage alcohol poisoning), you're in no condition to consent to anything. And yet, Oakley is mad about the "cheating" and not the fact that Luke is a douchebag Steve potential rapist. Oakley even confronts Vaughn about the "cheating" and grills her on it. Keep in mind that he is there when she goes into the bathroom and can hear her throwing up. Does he ask her if she's okay? Nah, it's all WHY WERE YOU KISSING MY BAND MATE.
Fourth, in the last of the act, Oakley and Vaughn break up when they're falling for each other for real over a stupid misunderstanding that COULD HAVE BEEN RESOLVED if either of them had pulled their heads out of their rear ends for the five-freaking-seconds it would have taken to discuss what happened like actual adults instead of the children they apparently are. At that point, I decided I was done with this whole book mentally. It was just to tedious to be invested in any longer.
Fifth, each chapter opens with Tweets from Oakley's stans, who are repulsive human beings. This is basically the only thing the book got right: speaking as someone who routinely gets rude comments from YA stans about the books I've reviewed, stans are the worst. They slut-shame Vaughn and say really creepy things about Oakley, and I hope their exchanges aren't supposed to be funny, because I mostly just found it disturbing and too close to the truth about the way the internet is.
If you liked PAPER PRINCESS, I'd advise against reading this. It felt like a watered-down version of everything that I actually liked about PAPER PRINCESS, and more of what I didn't like.
2 to 2.5 out of 5 stars