I have already reread it.
In historical romance’s greatest writer (and increasingly open iconoclast) Courtney Milan’s latest novel, Trade Me, her work steps sideways into the New Adult genre. In their early twenties, the main characters are young enough to be my children, but instead of putting me off, it created a similar kind of narrative distance to the historical elements in the romances I generally prefer. So much has changed since I was that age that this really is a different world for me. Milan brings themes of identity and the roles we are given in life, as well as family politics, into this alternate setting and builds a story around them with her usual skill, style, and charmingly memorable romantic moments.
Tina Chen is the twenty-one-year-old daughter of Chinese refugees. Her single focus in life is creating the financial security her family requires and this means she looked down the list of secure, well-paying professions and her finger landed on doctor. Tina has bills to pay and aspirations to fulfill. She works all the time on her university courses and at her job, she has no time to play.
Tina’s classes bring her into contact with Blake Reynolds. The only child of a Tech billionaire, twenty-three-year-old Blake has taken time off from working for his father to complete a university degree. His relentless but loving father sees it as self-indulgent folderol. After an in-class confrontation, Blake suggests to Tina that they switch lives for the remainder of the semester. She is leery of the trust fund baby, but cannot resist the financial incentive that living his life would provide. She and her roommate move into his house. He moves into the not-so-very converted garage they live in.
Blake would seem to be indulging in poverty tourism, but he has excellent reasons for wanting to lift himself out of his daily existence and hopes to make the most of this escape. Tina’s pressures are visible and more tangible. Blake’s are internalized and haven’t been acknowledged or even noticed by the people around him. His responsibilities to his father’s company and Tina’s assumption of them require that they spend a lot of time together working/trying not to fall in love. Just Tina really. Blake is ready, willing, and able to fall in love with as soon as Tina gives the word, and before that really.
Trade Me flew by in the best possible way. The story was so well-constructed and written that I just floated through the book absorbing the characters and enjoying the ride. Tina and Blake were both interesting and sympathetic, which is not surprising for her given her challenges, but quite an author’s feat for him as he is good-looking, successful, and filthy rich. The rich man’s son has problems of his own, most stemming from his relationship with his father, and he is young enough that his dad could participate in helping to fix them if only Blake could bring himself to voice his feelings.
The last portion of the book did suffer from Too Much syndrome. There was a whole lot of family drama and the kind of public denouement that is almost impossible to get away with. Milan nearly pulled it off and it certainly made for an exciting finish. Trade Me was a great, engrossing book which I would recommend warmly to readers. I look forward to the rest of the series. If Milan has been bolder in character choices in her last books, the next one in this Cyclone series, Hold Me, promises to be a game changer.
New Adult romance recommendations can be found here.
A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.