Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Well, That Was Unexpected is a YA rom-com that hits the mark perfectly.
Sharlot’s life is turned upside down when her mother finds her in a compromising situation, and subsequently takes her to her mother’s birthplace of Indonesia for the summer. Sharlot thinks this is the worst punishment ever… until she discovers her mom set up a social media profile for her and has made a date with a random guy that her mother approves of. Meanwhile, George Clooney Tanuwijaya is caught in his own compromising situation by his dad and sister, who then go online to find him a girlfriend to fix his loser status. What happens when two well-meaning but misguided parents catfish romantic interests for their teenaged children? Absolute hilarious highjinks, of course.
This laugh out loud funny book will have you cringing from secondhand embarrassment one moment and crying laughing at the witty banter the next. Though the situations these characters get themselves into are funny on their own, these particular characters and their reactions are what truly make this book so special.
Sharlot and George are adorably awkward together, but their humorous moments are nearly upstaged by their family members. George’s sister Eleanor Roosevelt is spunky, smart, and seriously knows how to make both of those things work for her. I am not so secretly hoping she gets her own spinoff book. Sharlot’s cousin Kiki is equally wonderful, both helping Sharlot through this wild ride of a situation while still learning and growing herself. Kiki’s and Sharlot’s willingness to be open and honest with each other makes this cousin-friendship bloom into one of my favorite parts of the book.
Yes, this book is laugh out loud hilarious. Like, take care reading in public because you will snort-laugh and then the other parents at baseball practice will side-eye you. Okay, that *might* just be me. But even though this book is absolutely hilarious, what makes it a five star read for me is that it also has serious depth.
Sharlot was born in the U.S., but her mother’s culture is Chinese-Indonesian. Her mom’s unwillingness to share about her family, homeland, and past has created a rift not only between Sharlot and her mom, but between Sharlot and her culture. Sharlot’s initial experience of Indonesia is strictly through the emotional lens of what has been denied to her, and that affects her perception of the place itself. As Sharlot learns more about her family’s past and connects to her culture, her perception shifts and she’s able to grow as a character.
Though the fish-out-of-water trope is often used primarily for humor, tying it to the emotionally complex topic of cultural identity added depth to the romance. Sharlot wasn’t only on a romantic journey with a person, she was falling in love with a place and learning how to incorporate all the different parts of her into one. The balance of this depth with humor is what makes this such a memorable read.
I can’t talk about this book without also mentioning the setting. From the city of Jakarta to the shores of Bali, the settings in this book are so swoony and gorgeous you’ll be looking into plane tickets before the cover finishes closing. The unapologetic decadence that makes much of the plot believable opens doors for humorous opportunities while also raising the stakes. I feel like this book has YA Crazy Rich Asians vibes with the private jets, fashion label name drops, and villas in Bali. These make for great settings and leave room for plenty of humor. But the juxtaposition of Sharlot falling in love with Chinese-Indo culture through her non-super-fancy experiences add to the depth, as well.
Well, That Was Unexpected is available September 27, 2022.
Thank you to the author, Random House Children’s, Delacorte Press, and NetGalley for an advanced e-copy such that I could share my honest opinions.
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