Dueling Review, Rant, Recommended Read

Dueling Review: Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata (2017)

If Ingrid were to review this book, she would call it a Recommended Read. If Erin were to review this book, she would write a Rant. Clearly, we needed to review this book together. 

Welcome to Dueling Reviews

Moderated by Holly, who is vastly entertained by Erin and Ingrid duking it out.

Erin’s Take:

Heat Factor: Totally vanilla.

Character Chemistry: They deserve each other.

Plot: I shouldn’t ask you this, it’s none of my business, you don’t have to answer.

Overall: I’d think Aaron was totally hot if I didn’t know I could bowl him over with the force of my personality.

Ingrid’s Take:

Heat Factor: It’s a steamy, fudgy, vanilla ice cream SUNDAE.

Character Chemistry:They’re like sweet, slightly damaged puzzle pieces

Plot: Young, isolated, emotionally inexperienced young woman becomes pen pal to army man stationed overseas. They bond deeply. To make this into a real relationship, they have to mature emotionally and find a way to communicate. Also, very sexy funtimes.

Overall: These guys aren’t perfect, but the way they bungle their way into a match made in heaven is steamy, sexy, and kind of cute.

Erin, summarize the book. 

Erin: New adult signs up for pen pal program with army NCO. Whines a lot. Is taken care of by big strong man. 

Ingrid, summarize the book. 

Ingrid: Ok. So. Two very young and naive and kind of awkward people…

E: He’s in his late 20s. 

I: I mean young from a maturity standpoint. 

Two underdeveloped adults are thrown together in a long-distance friendship that slowly builds into something transformative for them. The come out of it stronger and better and with a relationship. 

E: Do they come out of it stronger though?

Ingrid, describe the relationship between the main characters.

I: I think that these are two people who seem to struggle with communication and general human interaction and that the way their relationship started it opened them up in a way they might not have done otherwise. This really uncomfortable forced intimacy transforms them into something magical. 

Erin, describe the relationship. 

E: A hot mess. It’s not magical, and they do struggle to communicate. They’re emotionally immature.

I: What’s wrong with being emotionally immature?

E: They are codependent. She needs him to validate her life choices. He needs to take care of her. He needs her to validate his past. 

Ingrid, you described the end result of their relationship as “magical.” What do you mean by that?

I: This is where we go into the part of what I think Zapata does really really well–she takes two awkward uncomfortable people and has them bump up against one another. They walk this line between sexy and situationally uncomfortable, and that’s all personality. It creates this sense of intimacy that slowly builds. By the time they did anything about it, the reader is so ready. They had already worked through all the awkwardness and could communicate perfectly in the bedroom and it was really emotionally rewarding. 

Erin, would you agree that the intimacy is ultimately  emotionally rewarding?

E: When Ingrid and I were discussing this book a couple of weeks ago, she said that if the book ended and there was no sex it would be extremely disappointing, which I agree with. But I think the intimacy that was really satisfying is not the sex but when they finally acknowledged what they are to each other. The sex was simply a manifestation of that. It was definitely a slow burn and the moment that it hit that climax…

I: IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE!!!!

E: …Was really great

Question for Ingrid from Erin: What is the deal with going fishing? She breezes through it but her behavior is so “girly” or childish and he straight up doesn’t listen to her.

I: This and the airport…

E: THE AIRPORT

I: …Are two scenes that are really good at demonstrate the awkwardness

Up until this moment all of their communicating had been in writing and then they get together and it’s awkward. The discomfort is necessary for the rewarding feeling when they finally get together. 

And I’d like to point out that “arrogant doesn’t listen to her thing”. There’s SOMEONE in this conversation who would eat that up if this were a historical and he were wearing a top hot.

E: But I would still think she was a ninny even in petticoats. And heroines who are ninnies make me enraged. 

I: I want to point out that I did choose this Mariana Zapata book because I thought it would make you the most mad. Ruby is one of the sillier heroines. 

Question for Erin from Ingrid: Okay but that chemistry though.

E: I can take things as they are and agree that the way the relationship developed with them living in this relationship bubble because they’re pen pals does make for that satisfying climax after a slow burn. And that is arguably in and of itself good chemistry.

I would argue also that the chemistry being predicated on his being a big strong man who will take care of her and her being a 23 year old who apologizes for everything and can’t take care of herself detracts from my perception of their relationship 

I: So what you’re saying is that only strong women can have a sexy relationship

E: I’m saying that I don’t have the time of day for a heroine who is ridiculous. 

The way that Zapata demonstrated Aaron’s feelings without explicitly naming them was really well done. She does a good job of showing it rather than telling it – she doesn’t slap you in the face with all this feeling. For example, there’s a point when Ruby writes she’s dating some guy and Aaron disappears for a couple of weeks. It’s obvious to me as a reader that he’s disappeared because he’s jealous. Another time he sits between her and his friend while they’re talking, and he’s clearly staking his claim. 

Why doesn’t she understand that? The emotional nonsense was very frustrating. 

So Erin, your main beef was you hated the characters?

E: YES

Another question for Ingrid from Erin: Aaron infantilizes Ruby. It seems sweet, but how is this a healthy relationship? 

I: Well Erin. If it worked for them and they’re happy that way then that’s your answer. She’s really inexperienced and naive. And so I don’t think there’s anything wrong, if you don’t have a parent to walk you through this, it’s not that abnormal to have a romantic partner walk you through this stuff. Is it cute or sexy? Maybe not, especially if you don’t identify with that as a reader, but I think that it works and it’s something that resonates with a lot of people. 

And if at the end of the book there wasn’t any progress, I might have had a problem with it, but in the end they had made progress. 

E: In the end he’s still intimating she can’t take care of herself, same conversation they’re having halfway through the book. They’re having the same conversations the whole time, and he keeps bringing her soup because she can’t take care of herself, so I didn’t see progress. 

I: Or they like it that way

E: Sounds terrible.

I: You just shouldn’t be in a relationship with someone who treats you like a baby

And another question for Ingrid from Erin: How is it in any way acceptable that Ruby treats Aaron as the wronged party when she tells him she’s not a virgin?

I: Oh yeah. Um, it’s not. 

What’s bothering you is the characters keep doing things that are stupid and that’s uncomfortable for you, but that’s how the characters are. That’s where the tension is: will they or won’t they figure it out?!?!? I don’t know?!?!

Maybe I just a lot more patience for screwed up people. 

Erin, say one good thing about this book. 

E: The climax. 

Zapata does a good job of showing without telling and that culminates in a great climactic moment. It could have happened a hundred pages earlier if Ruby weren’t so obtuse, but they finally get there. 

Ingrid, what’s one bad thing about this book. 

I: I will admit – I devoured this one and then read all of her other books – it’s like too many sweets. The heroines are all helpless and you start to lack sympathy. I had less patience for Ruby the second time than the first time. (I had less issue with this the first time around.)

I think Erin’s right about the power. Aaron’s in charge, and Ruby’s not. 

E: SHE APOLOGIZED FOR EVERYTHING. If she had been a demure woman who owned her shit I could have dealt better.

I: Well, Erin, as someone who got called out in a staff meeting for apologizing too much, I do empathize with her. 

Question from Holly: Why is this book 500 pages long? What even happens for all that time?

I: It’s the slowest burn of all time. 

E: I think it’s just a formatting thing because of the way the letters are written or because they’re Skyping that makes the formatting bigger. It’s not necessarily 500 pages of word count. 

I: But then she spends like 30 pages “He looked at me and what does it mean and I don’t know?” and then you’ve read 30 pages and you had no idea. 

Closing arguments?

E: Setting aside a well-executed suspensefully climactic slow burn… The fact that these characters were soooooo enraging really detracted from this book and made me want to throw it. Constantly. 

If you can wrap your head around a woman who needs help deciding what socks to wear and apologizing for asking what you ate for lunch yesterday, then ok. 

Also if you’re a woman with a forceful personality, you might not like the hero because you would knock him down the moment you opened your mouth. 

I: I just think that this is a well-written book. It’s really engaging. It keeps you entranced and the climax is just fantastic. I think that the characters are imperfect as all people are. And I liked seeing the development of their relationship. It was just cute. Characters don’t always have to be ideal on their own for the story unfolding between them to be.


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