It is unlikely that in all of Berkeley there is someone less interested in the good opinion of a spoiled billionaire’s son as Tina Chen. She has absolutely no time for him. She is not some fluffy co-ed happily paying her bar-tab with her daddy’s money. Her life is dangerous financial balancing act. She is methodically and determinedly counting each cent, saving every dollar to make sure she has enough to finish school, so she can get a good job, and comfortably provide for her family. But until that day she has to count out the rice left in the bag, and hope it is enough for her to make till her next paycheck. Her mind is constantly filled with worry, whether her sister will have her attention medication this month; will her mother’s over-generosity with her time and money working to help other with immigration issues, mean they won’t have money for their utility bills; will her father, a torture survivor be able to keep a job. With all of this and regular college concerns like tests and papers due, she simply has no time for boy billionaires. Certainly no time for Blake, who nearly runs her over with his Tesla on his way to parking in chancellor’s spot. Blake is walking blind privileged.
But Blake wants to make time for Tina. He want to prove to her that he has been “seeing” her for a long time, that her life is not insignificant to him. He also wants to take her up on her empty offer to trade lives. He latches on to her idea, and turns it into a challenge/dare/distraction from the problems he doesn’t want to face.
And Blake does have problems. His problems are rooted in his loving dad’s suffocating pressure to abandon school and take over running their company “temporarily” and their shared grief for Peter , Cyclone Industries's dynamic CFO who died suddenly the year before. Fixated on Peter's death, Blake can only see himself disappearing under the demands of the company or die trying. He doesn’t want to fail his father or admit why he can’t do it. His despair and anxiety is manifesting in ways he doesn’t want to admit to. Coerced into a compromise of taking over the writing the launch script for their newest product, he recruits Tina to secretly take his place. He will live in her crappy garage apartment, he will work her minimum wage hours, and she can work on the script, while receiving a generous allowance and living in his palatial home.
This is an offer Tina wishes she could refuse, but she can’t walk away from that kind of money. Money that is only drop in the bucket to Blake, can make all the difference in her life and for her family. But Tina can’t take the money and run, she ends up spending time with Blake trying to understand the why of it all. The more she gets to know Blake the more she realizes things are far from right in Blake’s life even if he can throw money at his problems.
I loved Loved LOVED Tina from the very beginning. She is strong & proud even if she is terrified inside of failing and letting everyone down. I loved the genuine friendship she has forged with Maria (the Latina & Trans heroine of the next book in the series). I loved her uncompromising honesty and brilliant wit.
I was impressed by Milan’s ability to breakdown and humanize Blake. Milans is able to create real challenges, without ignoring his wealth. She created a character that is not simply “poor little rich boy”. I liked how he surprises Tina and himself throughout the book with his feelings and dreams. He might be able to be charming and confident, but also despairing, fearful & needy.
I cried a lot reading this book, (I am a crier) but there were so many moments of genuine emotion, as they learned each others secret hurts and joys. I loved how their relationship slowly developed over text messages, weekly script review meetings and long car trips.
I also loved the family relationships portrayed in book. I deeply identified with Tina’s conflicted feelings about her family, who she loves but who exhaust her. Blake’s relationship with his dad is more complex, sometimes funny and sometimes incredibly sad.
After easing us slowly into a friendship and relationship, the book takes a jarring turn in the last quarter. Tina and Blake are caught up in situation that shows how little they do have in common, despite how much they value each other. The crisis is a have a huge reminder of how differently the world treats them, and how easily they can be wedged apart. While I believed the resolution and Blake's action throughout, it is a departure from the book's pacing up to that point. I am glad that Milan is planning on returning to explore Blake and Tina's relationship in book three, for although they have HFN at the of this novel, and they feel confident that they have survived a huge hurdle, it still felt fragile to me.
I received a review copy of Trade Me from Ms. Milan via NetGalley