ARC Review – ‘Planning Perfect’ by Haley Neil

TITLE: Planning Perfect
AUTHOR: Haley Neil
GENRE: YA Contemporary, LGBTQ+
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 336 pages (hardcover)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Bloomsbury on February 14th, 2023
RRP$19.99 USD (hardcover)

Blurb from Goodreads:

In this charming, heartfelt YA romcom about being on the asexual spectrum, a girl tries to craft the perfect wedding for her mother but discovers that sometimes the best parts of life can’t be planned.

​Felicity Becker loves watching an event come together. Whether it’s prom, graduation, or just the annual Arbor Day school dance, there’s something magical about crafting an experience that people will remember. So when her mom gets engaged, Felicity sees the wedding as the perfect opportunity to show off her skills.

​After Felicity’s long-distance friend Nancy offers up her family’s apple orchard as a venue, wedding planning gets even better. But the more time Felicity and Nancy spend together dress shopping and hunting for just-right mismatched china, the more it starts to seem like there might be something besides friendship between them. Felicity isn’t sure how she feels. As someone on the asexuality spectrum, what would dating even look like for her? And would Nancy be open to dating when Felicity doesn’t even know what she wants from a relationship?

​Suddenly the summer is a lot more complicated. Especially when Felicity finds out that one of the wedding guests is an event planner with a prestigious internship available. Can Felicity wrangle her irresponsible mom, juggle her judgmental grandmother, figure out her feelings for Nancy, and plan the perfect wedding? Or will all of her plans come crashing down around her?

Planning Perfect is an #OwnVoices YA contemporary novel about a Jewish teenager on the asexual spectrum. Felicity Becker has a Type A personality to rival Rory Gilmore, and her dynamic with her free-spirited, unconventional mother and uptight, controlling grandmother will ring a bell to anyone with a passing familiarity with the show—not a surprise as the author pitched this as ‘Gilmore Girls but make it Jewish’. Always armed with a plan, to-do list and matching Pinterest board, Felicity believes she can make life to conform to her rigidly outlined expectations, but when she fails to secure the coveted position as Junior Committee President of the Social Friends Committee, she falls into an anxiety spiral over the notion that she’s destroyed her future now that she only has the less impressive title of Chief of Moral Support to put on college applications. But when her mother becomes engaged, Felicity has a chance to salvage the situation with an internship up for grabs if she can pull off the perfect wedding…in forty-seven days.

While I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Jewish representation, I very much enjoyed the incorporation of Jewish traditions in a way that felt genuine and provided insight into the main characters, like how Felicity and her mother’s weekly observance of Shabbat went from mother-daughter bonding time to eventually including her mother’s boyfriend Eric and Felicity’s best friend Roo. Be warned—there are bountiful food descriptions that will make your stomach rumble and your mouth salivate for the delicious meals savoured by these characters!

Felicity’s musings on her asexuality and biromanticism were pitch-perfect to me as a biromantic ace reader and it never came across like a lecture or a PSA being shoehorned into the book. Her insecurity and concerns about what her romantic future would look like resonated on a deep personal level and made me feel seen. Books like this didn’t exist when I was younger, hopefully it will be a comfort to modern-day teens who are coming to terms with their asexuality or simply trying to figure out their identity. Felicity is surrounded by supportive family and friends who never question the way she labels herself and it’s heart-warming to read about her positive experiences with confiding in loved ones about her orientation.

However the reader’s ultimate enjoyment of this book will depend on how much patience they have for flawed teens with a lot of growing up to do. Felicity’s ambition and drive is entirely sympathetic as is her disappointment over not winning the election, but from the first page, she presents herself as judgmental, difficult and immature. She’s rude to the secretary for enforcing school rules about detention for late students, rude to her ‘nemesis’ Brody Wells for blocking the classroom doorway and then having the nerve to wish her good luck, and when her mother’s long-time boyfriend proposes, she’s annoyed at the lack of sufficient props and drama behind the proposal because it’s not up to her high standards. At the start of the book, Felicity’s internal monologue is filled with condescension for everyone around her which is tiring to read.

Thankfully the author has planned a growth arc for Felicity’s character and as the story progresses, we see her become more self-aware, considerate and come to the realisation that she doesn’t know best after all. It does take a good portion of the book before she matures, but seeing how dedicated Felicity is to planning the perfect day for her mother makes it easier to root for her character. The appearance of long-distance friend Nancy on-page revitalises the story and infuses the chapters with humour, warmth and a slowly growing romantic spark as the two girls work together on the wedding plans. Their friendship and gradual blossoming romance is an absolute joy to read and will make readers yearn for a Nancy of their own!

The conflict in this book is entirely relationship-focused, there’s no external force to overcome, instead it all boils down to Felicity’s goals and flawed coping mechanisms when things go wrong. There is a strong mental health theme explored through the way Felicity’s anxiety causes her to act out and neglect herself, and it’s commendable how much the author focuses on the value of therapy, self-care and simple communication to work through problems. It’s also sadly very realistic how much teenagers define themselves by whether they ace exams or secure a prestigious social club position; there is an unfortunately common perception that students are failures in life if they don’t achieve these aims, so I appreciated Felicity’s arc of coming to understand that she is just as valid and worthy of being loved whether or not she has enough impressive dot points for her college applications.

A sweet story about a neurotic teenager navigating the difficult path to self-acceptance and realising you deserve love no matter your achievements or your orientation. Felicity’s emotional journey from uptight and demanding to being more accepting and mature is a bumpy ride, but ultimately rewarding.

Disclaimer: digital copy provided free from the publisher for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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