Book Review: Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein
"Lily, you can't help it if a boy changes you, but you don't let him change your plans."
Yet another YA novel; are you sensing a theme here? Fun fact, Jen Klein is a writer for Grey’s Anatomy, so she knows drama. But surprisingly, Shuffle, Repeat was fun and actually seemed realistic (unlike Shondaland). Oliver and June have known each other all their lives because their moms are friends, but they are not friends or have any overlapping friends. Oliver is the school jock, and June is the brainiac. She and her group of friends are not popular, but they aren’t losers either. But when June and her mom move to a farmhouse out near where Oliver lives, their moms decide that Oliver should drive June to school every day, since June doesn't drive. It is pretty awkward at first, but then they decide to make a game of it.
Oliver loves everything about high school and thinks everything that happens during their senior year matters, while June is just ready to move on to college and does not care about any of the big high school traditions. If each one of them makes a valid point for their argument, then they get a song on the playlist for their morning car rides. Oliver loves big power ballads from the 80s, and June listens to punk and alt-rock bands. They loathe the other’s music, so it is extra incentive to prove their point.
At the beginning of senior year, June is dating Itch (aka Adam Markovich), and Oliver is with Ainsley. So once they actually start becoming friends, they think they are in a good spot, since they are both in relationships. The book is described as When Harry Met Sally for YA readers. At first, I thought that was a bit of stretch, because When Harry Met Sally is a classic. But after I finished Shuffle, Repeat, the theme for the majority of the book echoes what Harry asked Sally: can men and women really be friends without sex? As in the movie, Oliver and June both struggle with this even when dating other people.
June dumps Itch shortly after Christmas break, but she doesn’t tell Oliver. He only finds out when he sees Itch kissing another girl, which leads to him punching Itch. Because that is typical behavior for defending just-a-friend’s honor. It strains Oliver and June’s friendship, because they agreed to have an honest relationship and June broke that trust by not telling Oliver about Itch. It also does not help when June realizes she likes Oliver as more than a friend. Then, Oliver’s mom Marley tells Hannah (June’s mom) that Oliver's dad is cheating on her. June overhears, but Marley swears her to secrecy about the whole thing, so June can’t tell Oliver, putting her in a terrible position since she knows how much this will hurt him and their relationship is supposed to be completely honest and transparent.
It's not long before Ainsley and Oliver break up. Shortly after that, Oliver and June kiss (finally!) on the hood of his car at a party. But June freaks herself out, now that she realizes she loves him and they’re about to graduate and go to different colleges. Klein hints at June's fear of change by acting like nothing bothers her, but she doesn't fully flesh that fear out. Because June has issues with her father, she pretends that any major emotion (i.e., falling in love with Oliver) is not worth her time and should be suppressed. But obviously, she and Oliver are both miserable without the other one. Enter a grand romantic gesture at prom.
Like I've said before, one of the best parts about YA novels is the secondary characters. June’s group of friends are very diverse. Her best friend Shaun is gay. Lily is a violinist going to Juilliard, who is also into punk rock. Darby is a bisexual Christian. Shaun gets the most screen time, and rightfully so. He and June’s banter is almost as adorable as June and Oliver’s. Almost. Oliver’s friends are kind of the worst, but they do fulfill the roles of normal high school stereotypical jocks and cheerleaders.
June and Oliver represent the stereotypical brainiac and jock respectively. Yet their personalities are more nuanced than in your average YA novel. June constantly thinks she is better than others (especially Oliver's friend Theo), sometimes misjudging others in the process. She also has strong issues with change. June claims she is ready for a high school to be over, but is still reluctant to any major change in her lifestyle. Oliver is much more sensitive and vulnerable than he first appears. In the beginning, June is surprised by how much Oliver knows about June and her group of friends, and how much he knows and cares about all the renovations at June's house.
Shuffle, Repeat was a cute YA novel; it is not the best one I have read lately, but it holds up in the overall genre. I really enjoyed June and Oliver’s relationship, mostly because I loved Oliver. He is such a big personality, but cares deeply for those he loves. And when he almost punches Theo for making sexual gestures at June? Swoon. He will do anything to protect June. I give it 4 stars.
Let me know what other novels are comparable to classic rom-coms.