Grace Grows is the debut novel by author Shelle Sumners, following the life of sensible heroine Grace Barnum, as she falls in love with up and coming singer, Tyler Wilkie.

Grace is a sensible woman in her late twenties with a sensible job (editor of school textbooks), a sensible partner (he makes lots of money doing boring stuff) and a sensible lifestyle.  Sure, this means that she carries about 40kg worth of excess everything in her bag ‘just in case’ and she may not have actually fallen in love before, but that’s cool, because she’s sensible.

Did I mention she’s sensible?

Then, as many chick lits contain, comes the cliche.  Tyler Wilkie.  An attractive, charming up and coming singer who falls in love (well probably lust) at first sight with Grace.  They become friends, and he makes it apparent that he has feelings for her.  And although she soon realises that she has feelings for him back, she valiantly tries to stop falling in love with him.  Because, you know, falling in love with a successful singer just isn’t sensible.

I didn’t enjoy this book at all.  As I’ve mentioned in other posts, while I try to read a variety of books and genres, I’m not as jaded as many are when it comes to the chick-lit section.  When done successfully, a romantic and endearing novel is a perfect way to spend a weekend.  Loveable characters, fantastic writing and an enjoyable plot are all aspects that come up time and time again in this genre, and sometimes just one is all you need to fulfil its obligations of keeping you entertained.

Grace Grows was not one of these novels.  At no point did I connect with any of the characters, be shocked or excited by the twists and turns in the plot (of which there were few) and the writing was passable at best (although, being her first novel, that was more than understandable, and I was willing to overlook it).

Firstly, the plot.  I had two issues throughout this novel that I just couldn’t get past.  The first was the over-the-top friendship between Tyler and Grace.  Grace tells Tyler right from the get-go that she has a boyfriend, and yet he continues to flirt with her, make coy eyes at her and even tells her that he loves her.

For me, this just isn’t on.  A true friend is someone that is not going to force themselves on you, time and time again.  Grace made it quite apparent that she only wanted to be Tyler’s friend, and she even distanced himself from him as a result, which he knew full well she was doing, yet every time they met up he continued to act in a way that was inappropriate and unwelcome.  This just isn’t cool.  It creates a mentality that a friendship between two straight people of opposite sexes are only friends to eventually get in one another’s pants.  I choose to think that my male friends like me for my company, and they would back off if they knew I wasn’t interested.  Although it may seem flirtatious and cute because it’s fiction, when you put Tyler’s actions into everyday scenarios (picture one of your less attractive male friends continually touching your thigh for example) and you realise that it’s actually rather creepy.

The second issue was the way that it dragged.  In the first ten pages we knew that Grace and Tyler were going to get together, and that certainty never wavered for a moment throughout Grace Grows.  Where was the excitement?  The chase?  The need to keep turning page after page, just to make sure that they ended up together?  Furthermore, the story had continual dips which could have easily ended the novel, were it not for the main characters annoying actions.

The characters.  First, Grace.  I understand that being a sensible character she has to over think every action that she does, but it gets really old reading about her worries over and over again.  First she’s worried about Tyler liking her.  Then she’s worried he doesn’t like her enough.  Then she’s worried he won’t deal with the unexpected aspects of their budding relationship.  So as a result, she continually shuts him out and refuses to talk to him.  Without explaining why, but instead breaking down into tears every 10 pages (and no, that almost isn’t even an exaggeration).

Then, for someone who is so clear-headed about so many things, she treats her fiance, Stephen, rather terribly.  Sure, Stephen is a minor character at best, and a boring one at that, but I really disliked how Grace pushed him aside so easily when the time came.  One moment Grace is worried because she wants to be with him because he’s comfortable and reliable and she loves him, and then next second she realises that isn’t the case and she leaves him without giving him a proper goodbye or expectation.  Definitely not a cool move for someone you were preparing to marry.  Particularly since we also learn that his previous partner left him for another man.  Ouch.

Tyler Wilkie.  While most of what I think about his actions has already been described, I’m going to go on a bit more. Aside from the unnecessary flirtations, I just didn’t believe in his character.  No guy in real life is that charming to someone he just met.  The way that Sumners wrote his character just seemed like a cliched character out of a high school romance, the type of boy that a 15 year old girl would make up in her mind; unimaginative, unrealistic and rather bland.

The writing.  While this was actually the aspect of Grace Grows that I held the least resentment towards, it still wasn’t great.  The first mistake that Sumners had was trying to bring in literary classics into her storyline, which so very frequently goes wrong.  Describing the emotions that your characters are feeling about finishing To Kill A Mockingbird may come across as worldly and intellectual in theory, but the reality is all rather a bit contrite and pathetic.

The second mistake was including song lyrics.  It may very well just be my jaded personality, but I can’t stand reading songs in books unless they’re utterly fantastic classics.  Made-up songs by Tyler Wilkie, although in a less cynical world may be sweet, just kept reminding me of One Direction and boys with over-styled hair.

Have you read Grace Grows?  Are you a fan of chick lit?  Let me know!

grace grows by shelle sumners

Grace Grows – (image from http://www.cleo.com.au)

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