Overall Grade: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 1/2
Every new season of SmartyPants Romance provides new stories, ones that allow you to return to the wonderful world of Green Valley, Tennessee. Penny Reid crafted this place where the magic of connection seems divine. With each new season release, I find myself excited for the “new to me” authors, the people I have yet to read. And every season, I am always astonished at the talented authors writing more stories for the Penny Reid universe. This season, Ann Whynot is my first new-to-me author, and each turn of the page of her book, Dewey Belong Together, made me smile and my heart swell. This next part is high praise for her because it is the first book that I want to share with my son, a supporter of my blog, but a critic of writing. As a screenwriting major, he’s taken on a critical bent when it comes to writing. However, as I fell further into Whynot’s book, I saw him in her characters. Let me tell you why…
While anyone can read Dewey Belong Together, and you should no matter your age, this is the first book I’ve read that feels very Gen Z, and Gen Z in an astute and insightful way. Whynot’s hero and heroine are gamers, and their struggles, to a certain degree, lie in their construction of identity. Whynot aptly shows her readers the dichotomy between an online identity versus an IRL (in real life) identity and the challenges of judging one before the other. You see Wrath aka Jonathan has disparaged and harassed Maximus_Damage online for over a decade. Seemingly mortal enemies, when Wrath shows up for a face-to-face guild get together, who Jonathan is in person is not who he is online with Maxine aka Maximus_Damage. Even more, Maxine isn’t at all who Jonathan expects. Through their meet-cute and eventual story, Whynot is able to play with so many ideas that challenge Gen Z: sexual/gender identification, female gamers and their place in the gaming community, prejudgement, and past actions that don’t match present choices. With technology as a key force in their lives, Gen Z struggles with these challenges, and Whynot’s book interrogates all of these as she evolves Jonathan and Maxine’s relationship.
Most importantly, and an issue magnified by Gen Z, is Whynot’s exemplification of mental illness. Whynot lays out this struggle so beautifully in this story that you realize quickly the impact it plays on relationships. I don’t want to divulge this story’s secrets about this theme; instead, read Dewey Belong Together to note how distinctly Whynot handles it within the telling of her story.
I love the brokenness of her hero and heroine. She plays with traditional gender norms in this story which makes it exciting to read. If I had any criticism, it would be the chemistry between Maxine and Jonathan. I think Whynot could have developed it a bit more. It stays fairly muted throughout the book, which causes you to question their eventuality. Beyond that, though, is a charming story, replete with modern-day nerd allusions that make you chuckle if you have ever entered nerdom (as the mother of a nerd and a nerd myself, I completely “got” Whynot’s references). Even more, that Whynot uses the word “scritch” to explain the act of petting your animal made my life as I thought I was the only human to use it.
In the simplest form, Ann Whynot’s Dewey Belong Together is a delight of a story. With references to some of your favorite Green Valley residents and former SmartyPants Romance characters, coupled with a hero and heroine who exude the modern-day trials of Gen Z, every page of this book connected me to my kid, to my college students, and to a true modern-day romance,
In love and romance,