Book review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

(cover image courtesy Pan Macmillan Australia)

Social media is supposed to be the great unifier of far-flung people, like-minded souls and connection-hungry 21st century denizens.

And in many ways it is, bring people into contact who might otherwise never meet, spreading ideas that can make the world better and and helping people to feel just that little bit more understood and a little less lonely.

But in Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, where girl meets boy and simultaneously doesn’t (but still does though she doesn’t know it) – confused? Don’t be, Like all romantic comedies, it all makes delightful sense in the end, and even well before that – social media is as much about making things worse as it is making things better.

Although like most things in life, particularly when it becomes to the fractious ins and outs of the digital world, better and worse are highly subjective terms.

One thing that Pepper Evans, heir to a burger empire and unwilling, unofficial social media manager for her parents’ chain, and Jack Carmichael, nascent app developer and deli worker extraordinaire (including their Twitter presence) can agree, all relativity aside, is that in the short term social media makes things far worse before it makers immeasurably better.

“For all our differences, at least in this regard, we’re always agreed. Ethan may have begged off most of his shifts at the deli over the last few years—the summer before high school he opted into some volunteer trip to build houses with a group of the more popular kids in our class, and basically came back their new king—but no matter how in demand he is outside of the deli, the loyalty is always there. It’s so bone-deep in both of us it feels more shared than anything else, even more than being each other’s spitting images.” (P. 21)

In this thoroughly delightful debut YA novel, which is vitally full of the heady possibilities and big mistakes that come from growing up, the two classmates from tony Stone Hall in New York are trying to decide just where they sit on the power and promise of social media, and in particular, Twitter.

Pepper aka Patricia is a star student who is as adept at leading her school’s female swim team as she is acing all her exams and assignments, and she is admittedly fast and clever when it comes to witty Twitter comebacks but caught between what her mother wants for the company, her own impossible-to-meet standards, and a sneaking suspicion that her life is so ridiculously crowded with things to do that she lost sight of who she is and what she wants, she is at a loss to know what to do when her senior year ends.

Jack is similarly flummoxed but for wholly different reasons.

One half of twins with his brother Ethan who is everything Jack is not – Ethan is witty, urbane, charming and the darling of the popular clique at school – Jack is the son of deli owners whose family business is something he loves and wants to be a part of but which is causing him to lose sight of what he wants in life.

Both Pepper and Jack may have stayed out of each other’s orbits and less-than-blissfully caught in life ruts largely not of their making but for a tweet war which breaks out between the Evans’ Big League Burger (BLB), run by Pepper’s mum and Girl Cheesing, a small but massively loved deli in New York than is outraged when it finds out BLB appears to have stolen one of its most hallowed recipes.

Emma Lord (image courtesy official Emma Lord Twitter account)

Or rather, ever-loyal Jack, and to a lesser extent Ethan, is furious when it looks like BLB is trying to encroach on Girl Cheesing’s small but highly influential patch.

The tweet spat which results, garnering lots of press and attention for both sides, plunges Jack and Pepper, who clearly like each other but are pushed every which way in dealing with each other when so much of their time and energy is bound up in their Twitter feud – though for the first part of the novel, neither knows the other is connected to the opposing business – stands in direct contrast to the brilliant way the two would-be friends and lovers are getting on, anonymously it must be added, on an app Jack has developed for all the Stone Hill students.

It is in many wonderful ways, very You’ve Got Mail as the two high school seniors who are clearly destined for each other in that definitive way only the best rom-coms truly manage, spar in person (though also subconsciously attracted to each other) while getting on famously on the app.

Lord manages to keep the two worlds separated just long enough, but thankfully not too long because there’s only so much URST than anyone reader can manage before you desperately want to the two protagonists to fall in love already!

“Pooja’s smile is bright enough to compete with all of the fluorescent lights in the girls’ locker room combined, and for an absurd moment, I [Pepper] almost want to tell her everything. The stupid Twitter war. The chats on Weazel. The way I haven’t slept through a full night in so long that every now and then, I feel like I’m about to crack. It’s stuff I can’t talk about with Paige because it would just make her angry with Mom—and stuff I can’t talk about with anyone else, because it feels like giving too much of myself away.” (P. 153)

Lord, however, balances it beautifully, keeping us invested in whether Pepper and Jack will finally figure it all out – they do but the way it’s handled is clever, not as obvious as you might think and a lot of warmhearted fun into the bargain – while keeping the path to true young love percolating along quite nicely.

Pepper and Jack are thoroughly likable young people who want the very best for themselves and those they love but like everyone in the messy teenage years not entirely sure how to go about making it all come together.

The ending too, which is completely expected but no less welcome or enjoyable for it – we all know how a romantic comedy is supposed to end but not everyone sticks the landing as pleasingly and happily as Lord does – is all neat endings and happy ever afters but still redolent with the fact that even when things work out, that doesn’t mean all the ducks will necessarily line up in a row.

Tweet Cute is a supremely lovely, war, rich and clever take on a teenage rom-com that, delightfully-executed title and play on words aside, manages to be both frothy and fun and meaningfully grounded all at the time, testament to the skill of Lord’s writing, her eye for finely-wrought characters and a knack for taking the well-worn tropes and cliches of the rom-com and doing something altogether refreshingly original, fun and heartfelt with them.

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