Title: Alex, Approximately
Author: Jenn Bennett
Release Date: April 4th 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Content Warning: Guns, Death, Past Stalking, PTSD
Synopsis: Pitched as a teen version of You’ve Got Mail, Alex, Approximately follows Bailey “Mink” Rydell, who is developing a crush on her online film geek friend “Alex”.
Soon after Alex invites Bailey to come out to a film festival in his hometown to see North by Northwest, Bailey moves to Coronado Cove to live with her father. Without telling Alex. Confrontation avoidant Bailey decides to find Alex using the hints she’s gotten from their online conversations.
Then, her father secures her a summer job at a local Museum where she clashes with a very attractive security guard named Porter Roth. As the summer goes on, Bailey has to choose between her online fantasy with Alex and the boy standing in front of her. Unless, Alex is a lot closer than it seems.
Alex, Approximately has the exact formula I look for in Romances. Online friendship leading to more? Check. Hate to Love in real life? Check. Mistaken Identities? Check. Misunderstandings? Check. California Central Coast setting? Check. Characters with a traumatic past? Check.
Despite that, Alex, Approximately ended up being a disappointment (albeit a relatively cute disappointment). In part because of the hype, which made me go into it expecting to fall in love, and in part because of how the online aspect of the story was handled.
To start off, I’m going to talk about the aspects of Alex, Approximately that I did like.
As a girl who has lived in California her entire life, I adore books that have a California setting. Alex, Approximately was particularly special to me because it takes places in the Central Coast. While the beach town of Coronado Cove is fictional, the story does take places in actual spots in California! Bailey and Porter even go out together to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. There are also scenes at the beach and the boardwalk. If you’re looking for a book that feels California, Alex, Approximately is it.
Bailey and Porter both have traumatic pasts, which isn’t too evident from the official synopsis. Going into Alex, Approximately, I wasn’t expecting the heaviness that was there, so it was a surprise but a good one. I won’t get too much into what exactly what happened for the sake of spoilers. I will say that both involved issues/instances that impacted their whole family. There are mentions of past stalking, gun violence, and a shark attack so if any of those things are triggering for you I would go into the book knowing that. Bailey’s development was a stand out. In the case of Bailey, her mother was still reeling from the event that caused their family to be stalked. It put a lot more of a strain on her relationship with her mother. I loved the ending scene in which Bailey addresses it. Seeing Bailey go from avoidance of her problems to being able to make the first move regarding them was inspiring.
First and foremost what failed in Alex, Approximately was the online aspect of Bailey and “Alex” aka Porter’s relationship. While their online interactions were relevantly frequent in the beginning of the book, they dwindle fairly early on. Bailey and Porter’s online relationship started to fade even more as they got to unknowingly know each other in real life. In the context of their stories, I understand it but that’s ultimately not what I look for. Since their online relationship wasn’t fleshed out to begin with, that did them no favors. Going into Romances where the two main characters have a differing relationship online and in person, I look forward to seeing lots of both interactions. That wasn’t what I got with Alex, Approximately. Bailey and Porter didn’t seem to have that strong of a relationship online, especially one that would warrant Porter inviting her out to California to see a movie with him. I couldn’t buy into their online relationship, which was detrimental to my reading experience. Also, how their online interactions were formatted made them feel quite mechanical.
My last big complaint for Alex, Approximately was the “villain”. Davy, the villain, is a teenage delinquent who uses drugs and steals things. I’m not a big fan of making teenagers who do drugs villains when there are much more compelling narratives out there. The fact that Davy happened to be the guy who Porter’s ex-girlfriend cheated on him with made it feel that much cheaper. Once he got involved in messing with Bailey’s life because she was with Porter, I rolled my eyes. I’m tired of villains like this. I think the story could’ve been greatly improved if he was refashioned or taken away from the story entirely. There were so many better routes that Bennett could’ve taken to foster conflict and bring up past traumas than through a flimsy character like Davy.
On a more minor note, Bailey mentions her experiences in therapy. They weren’t positive, which was a bummer. Depicting positive experiences in therapy and with therapists is so important. There’s so much mystery regarding them and a lot of misconceptions. Having to see poor depictions of it in Young Adult, is disheartening. Therapy isn’t for everyone, but making it seem inherently wrong or a waste of money is unfortunate.
Despite Alex, Approximately not hitting the mark for me, I still think it’s an overall good book that features a healthy first time, coping with PTSD, and lots of character development. And, of course, a beautiful California setting.
If you’re looking for a cute-sy Young Adult Beach Romance with some darker undertones, then I would recommend Alex, Approximately.