It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

Audrey is over romance.

Since her parents’ relationship imploded her mother’s been catatonic, so she takes a cinema job to get out of the house. But there she meets wannabe film-maker Harry. Nobody expects Audrey and Harry to fall in love as hard and fast as they do.

But that doesn’t mean things are easy. Because real love isn’t like the movies…

The greatest love story ever told doesn’t feature kissing in the snow or racing to airports. It features pain and confusion and hope and wonder and a ban on cheesy clichés. Oh, and zombies…

YA star Holly Bourne tackles real love in this hugely funny and poignant novel. 

My Review

I have so many feels about this book. SO MANY!!!!

I love rom-coms. They are my absolute favourite type of film to watch. My personal favourites are any of those Richard Curtis ones with Hugh Grant playing a foppishly dashing leading man! Heck my dog is even named after a dog from a rom-com (Brinkley in You’ve Got Mail)

I love all those seemingly accidental meet-cutes. I love how the couple hate each other at first, then fall passionately head over heels about each other while some Diane Warren or David Foster style pop ballad plays in the background. I buy into it all. Give me a bowl of popcorn, a fluffy blanket and a rom-com film and that’s my idea of a good night in. However replace that rom-com film with a rom-com book and that is a GREAT night in.

But what do these rom-coms teach us about love?
About life?
Are they detrimental to how we view ourselves in our romantic relationships?
Does love like that only happen in the movies???
Those are the questions that the leading character in this book, Audrey, asks of herself and of us the readers.

Common dates in romance movies:
Seats in a box at the opera or ballet
Walking around a beautiful foreign city
Night-time picnics in empty parks
Finding some gorgeous abandoned house that the boy fills with candles

Common dates in real life:
Nando’s…”

This book is an absolute triumph at turning the cutesy YA rom-com on its head. Audrey is 100% relatable. I love how so much of the book is interspersed with her inner monologue of all that she’s thinking about the situations she finds herself in.

At the start of the book we find Audrey flailing. Her heart has been callously stomped on by someone she thought she loved and loved her, her home life has gone to pieces, she feels alienated from her best friends, she no longer cares about what once were her passions… She’s a broken shell of the girl she once was and views life with a cold cynicism.

Enter Harry.
Harry has player stamped across his forehead and Audrey knows it… But is he different? Can he help restore her faith in love?

Sounds kinda clichéd right???
WRONG!!!

Instead of getting a cheesy romance where the girl is swept off her feet we get a grittier type of romance with screwed up characters. A romance with highs and lows. But most importantly of all we get a main character who demands that her partner in life sees her for exactly who she is. Not some manic dream pixie quirky crap. No. Just her.

He smiled without his teeth. Small, shyly. I found myself smiling back. Like an impulse.

Then he ruined it by saying… “You’re not like other girls, are you?”

And I activated. Every single emotion I’d been squashing into my guts exploded like a burst appendix. I jumped off the bed and turned to him with a scowl I was sure he’d need permanent therapy to recover from.

“Are you kidding me Harry?”

“Woah Audrey. Hey, hey, hey. It’s a compliment.”

I felt like screaming. “It’s NOT a compliment.” I threw my arms up, any motion to get rid of the rage pulsing through me. “It’s an insult to every single woman on this PLANET. Don’t you DARE try and pull that shit on me.”

“What shit?!” Harry was stupid enough to ask. “I was saying something nice…”

I shook my head so hard.

“No, you were saying something clichéd and UNTRUE. I AM like other girls, Harry. Don’t misinterpret my hatred of romance as some kooky, laid-back, manic pixie NONSENSE. I am DAMAGED. I am not CUTE. I am emotionally-fucking-traumatised right now, okay? I am screaming on the inside. I am too angry and messed up to contain all the stuff girl spend every day containing. That’s why I seem different. That is NOT sexy.

A true trumpeting for equality of and respect between the sexes.

Like okay. Audrey as a character feels a lot more authentic than Harry because he is a walking, talking, bad-boy cliché but it worked!

Because the distance from Harry that I felt as a reader kept me in the dark about him for the entirety of the book. Kept me second guessing his true feelings and motivations. It made me forget his flaws when he did something swoon-worthy. It made me root for Audrey and Harry much in the same way that Audrey fell for him.

I thought it was actually very beneficial to the plot to not be as intimately familiar with him as I was as a reader with Audrey. Because this book really isn’t about Harry. It’s not really about romance either. It’s about a girl becoming comfortable in her own skin. It’s about Audrey.

What makes Audrey so relatable as a main character is that she shares the same hopes and fears that we all share going through the latter part of our teenage years. She doubts herself. Yet she also knows her own mind… And it’s this contrast that makes her feel real. Earthy.

Through Audrey, the reader is taken on a journey of what it means to be truly happy.
Of what it means to be true to yourself.
Of what it means to love.
This book is a triumph of independent spirit.

Audrey’s interactions with her female friends are fantastic. The book explores the highs and lows of female friendships in an honest and humorous fashion. I urge any young girl to read Chapter 25 in which Audrey and one of her female friends quite frankly discuss sex and losing virginity and how it’s not all bells and whistles. Not only is it enlightening to a young audience it’s also hysterical with some of the best metaphors I’ve ever read!

Another thing this book does is talk about consent. About what is and isn’t okay. It talks about how the pervasiveness of rape culture undermines our romantic relationships at every step. How we are almost conditioned into these roles by society. Read this passage for yourself and let it open your eyes if they already have not been.

Men in films regularly kiss women who don’t want to be kissed.

And those are supposed to be the good kind of kisses. Either the woman is taken by surprise, or storming off in a mood, or having a huge go with them, or is engaged to somebody else, or claims she is just plain not interested.

And, how do men in movies respond to this clear instruction of “no”?

They grab the woman’s face, and kissed her anyway. Roughly. Using their masculine force.

And rather than being slapped or even arrested, these movie men are rewarded for their… well… sexual violence. The women “give into” the kiss after a brief moment of fighting it.

You see, according to Hollywood, these women wanted to be kissed all along. It was just the male lead’s job to break through the barriers. Barriers like wilful consent.

Outside Hollywood movies, there is a term for being kissed against your will. This term isn’t “spontaneous” or “romantic” or “passionate”. No, it’s called sexual assault. It’s a crime punishable in the UK by up to 10 years in prison.

It’s so refreshing to see a female lead character in a YA book be properly conflicted about the right aspects of love and relationships. Audrey wants the deeply romantic kisses that make her forget…well everything and go gooey for a boy because he makes her weak at the knees. I mean who among us doesn’t want that right?

And she is also the same girl that wants to be treated 100% as an equal. That wants to be respected. That wants her voice to be heard. That wants her dreams to be no less important than anyone else’s dreams.

And that’s the whole crux of this book… Those things are not incompatible. This book is about wanting to be loved in a healthy and respectful manner by your partner, by your family and above all by yourself. It’s about choosing love.

If I am to have any quibbles about this book they would be due to the situation surrounding Audrey’s home life. At times it felt overly dramatised, to me the relationship with her brother was not explored enough and there was an all together too convenient ending to her mum’s issues. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor quibble. As the focus on this book was understandably very much on Audrey.

And I guess I should complain about the lack of non-douchebag male characters. Because to be truly feminist books should not only raise up the female experience but also give us male characters that are fully respectful of the female narrative. Not every guy out there is sexist or misogynistic and therefore it would be nice to see a little more balance in Holly’s writing when it comes to writing males.

What I do love is that Holly Bourne has a fantastic sense of humour that clearly manifests in her characters. There are so many laugh out loud moments and wonderful gems of quotes and passages that I would love to share but I think it’s best to happily stumble upon them as you read this book for yourself.

Watch out for the John Green TFiOS reference though…hilariously savage AF!!

A highly entertaining read that I would recommend to fans of contemporary YA and to fans of general adult fiction too. This is a book that definitely crosses the age divide with no problems whatsoever.