I am not really a straight-up romance reader and if I do read them, I tend to like them angsty rather than sunny and sweet. Talia Hibbert’s first YA novel Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute definitely falls in the sweet category, but I am okay with that because this book is as charming as heck.
Seventeen-year-olds Celine Bangura and Bradley Graeme can barely stand the sight of each other. The two are classmates at Rosewood Academy, a school somewhere near Nottingham, England. Celine makes TikTok videos about UFOs and vaccines and has amassed a bit of a following. Brad is a football (aka soccer) player who hangs with the cool kids. Celine makes her disdain for Brad well known from the start.
People like them – “popular” people who think sports and looks and external approval are a valid replacement for actual personality – ironically don’t have the social skills to deal with anyone outside their golden circle. I should know.
Celine has “always believed he is fake and false and entirely made of earth-destroying plastic“.
Brad’s feelings regarding Celine are equally disdainful. She’s a “terrible, horrible person who I absolutely can’t stand.”
It wasn’t always been this way, though. Their mothers are besties and so were they until they were fourteen. Then something happened and now the two give each other the evil eye and if they do have to talk it’s only to trade pointed barbs.
An accident puts them on each other’s radar and then they both end up going for the same scholarship, which requires them to participate in a two-part survival course. Neither of them is particularly interested in the great outdoors, but both of them would benefit from the money for different reasons.
Celine is competitive and driven, especially by her need to shame her father who “ditched [her] for his second family ten years ago and [she hasn’t] seen him since.” Brad’s family could afford the tuition, but the scholarship means that he could afford single accommodations, which is something Brad desperately wants for reasons I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say, these teenagers – besides being really smart and funny – have baggage and secrets they are keeping from themselves, their families and even each other. They have built walls around themselves in order to protect themselves from the rough weather known as adolescence.
Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute is definitely tropey. There’s enemies-to-lovers, and close proximity, for sure. But in every other way, this is a refreshing, funny and sweet story of two teenagers trying to figure out what they want their lives to look like. I absolutely adored both of the main characters. Their banter was often laugh-out-loud funny and even though I knew what the outcome of this whole thing was going to be right from the very start I was delighted to go along for their swoony ride.