Literal Hotties will focus on reviews and recommendations of titles by womxn of colour, both fiction and non-fiction.
“It’s giving me slow torture, it’s giving me yearning and longing gazes, and it is very very juicy.”
Ugly crying is my brand. Like, Kim Kardashian level ugly crying, not the type that’s cute but can occasionally be funny. It’s just uncomfortable for everyone. So, I knew this book was my vibe. Besides the fact that the world is burning, and corona is a vindictive bitch, books are thankfully still around.
If you follow me on socials you will know that I’ve been in dire need of a good YA romcom, one that overwhelms your stomach with butterflies and has you giggling out loud at the pages. When the final installment of the To All the Boys movies dropped I was left feeling desolate. Enter Joya Goffney’s debut; sexy and inviting and reminding us that we have to get under someone to get over someone. Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry is who I got under.
Quinn is the daughter of a lawyer and doctor and attends one of the best private schools in Texas. Because of this, her parents have high expectations for her, which include going to Columbia University. Attending a predominantly white school isn’t easy, and making just above average grades that definitely do not get you into Columbia can create a lot of pressure for a teen. So where does Quinn release all these feelings? In a journal where she keeps multiple lists, of course.
Quinn has spent years perfectly compartmentalising her thoughts, memories and feelings into lists, including ones that count how many times she’s ugly cried, and things she would never admit out loud.
Unluckily for Quinn, the author and I both like chaos.
Within the first chapter Quinn has lost her journal. Her very peng classmate, Carter, mixes it up with his own. Of course, Carter accidentally loses her journal between classes before he can return it, and thus begins Quinn’s nightmare, which may just end up changing her life for the better.
There are secrets in the journal that could potentially ruin Quinn’s life; one of them being that she faked her acceptance letter into Columbia, and also that she has a crush on her long time friend, Matt. Cue that New Girl scene where Schmidt screams “a white man?! NO!!!!” and you’ll get a perfect image of how I reacted to her crush on Matt.
“It’s a match made in heaven, and I salivated through each new development”
The boy is question is painfully bland, like if flour were a spice type of bland, but Goffney doesn’t torture her readers by involving him in Quinn’s journey. Soon, she is being blackmailed to complete the goals on one of her lists by an anonymous Instagram account, and if she fails to do so they’ll continue to expose her more incriminating lists.
Enter Carter; academically gifted, smooth af and unafraid to hold Quinn accountable for her past wrongdoings. It’s a match made in heaven, and I salivated through each new development. To make up for losing her journal, and to clear his own name of suspicion, Carter proceeds to help Quinn complete tasks on her lists before time runs out.
The book takes readers through day trips to university campuses, Quinn’s first night out at a bar, and the first time she holds people in her school accountable for their racism. Quinn’s change in herself is both subtle and sweet, and the forging of new relationships brings readers a joy that will make them reminiscent of when they found their own people, who understood them more deeply than they thought possible.
What Goffney manages to nail so perfectly is this very exploration – the transition of being friends with people, just because you spent everyday together – to becoming friends with people who you truly share common interests and experiences with. It’s freeing for Quinn, and almost cathartic for the reader to watch her evolve and come into her own in such a way.
Whilst this journey of redefining herself is underway, she is also falling in love, and let me tell you the object of her affections is truly a babes. Carter mostly keeps to himself and one of his only friends, Olivia, is one of the only other Black students at their school. Carter is not free of faults, though it’s exactly what makes him the closest person to perfection in the book. In the beginning he openly shares his dislike of Quinn; coming from a working class family, his observations of her had led him to believe she is spoilt and untrue to herself, going as far as to nickname her Hilary – à la Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
“The sexual tension is there, man. It’s sizzling, readers, and you’ll be screaming at the pair to kiss at every given opportunity.”
An enemies to lovers theme being thrown into this provides a recipe of chaos, romance and drama that is akin to being on a sugar high. You’re bouncing off the walls with excitement. Because the sexual tension is there, man. It’s sizzling, readers, and you’ll be screaming at the pair to kiss at every given opportunity. At one point, the tension became so unbearable for me I screamed “just lips, man!”, sitting up in my bed. It’s giving me slow torture, it’s giving me yearning and longing gazes, and it is very very juicy.
As for the culprit who continued to blackmail Quinn, readers will be left guessing until she herself realises who it is. It’s consistently under investigation, but lessens in importance as Quinn becomes more comfortable with herself. Oftentimes she is reliant on the journal when feeling pressure or emotional distress, and tends to fold into herself when writing in it. It is a physical manifestation of Quinn’s insecurities and self doubt, as a result she actively makes herself smaller in spaces by writing in it.
By losing her journal and getting to know Carter (and her new friend Olivia) she is free to discover that she does not need to lessen her presence. She finds a new power in herself, and it is here that it reminds readers of Lara Jean’s letters in To All the Boys. Quinn’s ability to hide away is akin to Lara Jean’s, using the pages they write on to hide behind. I like to think that in a crossover universe they would have become friends.
Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry is better than what the doctor ordered, it’s the physical manifestation of a ‘treat yo self’ day. Leaving readers giddy and excited for what else Goffney will produce in a brilliant career. I’m genuinely envious of all the great romcoms and dramas young adult readers get to grow up with now. Sorry, I’m just not a good enough person to be happy for all of you.
Also, if I was a character in this book and confronted those responsible for blackmailing Quinn, it would have been on sight. I was ready for a fight.