It's practically a cliche: a girl wakes up in bed with a boy. She had a few drinks the night before. She's usually so inhibited. She doesn't even know who he is...until he turns out to be exactly the guy she wouldn't want to be in bed with.
Jenn Nguyen takes this trope and creates a pretty incredible novel in her debut, The Way to Game the Walk of Shame. Her protagonist, Taylor, is a Type-A high school senior who has big plans for herself. She's been just a little off, though, since she got waitlisted at her first choice school, Yale. After letting loose at a party, she discovers that she's spent the night at Evan's house. Evan is famous for having girls in his bed. Taylor does not want to be one of those girls.
So, when everyone starts talking at school, Taylor and her bff hatch a plan to fend off the slut shamers: get Evan to become Taylor's boyfriend. What follows is both fun and funny. Neither party has ever been in a serious relationship, and faking it turns out to be very confusing for everyone.
What is most striking about this novel is that despite that set up, Nguyen makes sure none of her characters are a stereotype: Taylor has been dubbed the "Ice Queen" by her classmates, but she's nothing like an ice queen. She's Type A and driven, sure, but she also knows how to have fun and isn't so ambitious that she can't help others. Evan is a womanizer and a "bad boy" but he's not some Neo-Heathcliff. He's caring and thoughtful and, as it happens, much more romantic than he ever wanted to believe. Both are shaped by their relationships with their parents and face consequences when they don't behave the way they're supposed to.
The romance in this novel is super teen appropriate (read: no actual sex) and genuinely pretty delightful. Like, I found myself smiling often while reading this because it was just so fun. What's more, this novel honestly tackles some things that teens truly do grapple with on a daily basis: college acceptance, parental pressure, high school reputations, navigating relationships, facing the reality of impending freedom. This is romance that has plenty of room for everyone to breathe: Taylor is an independent, intelligent, powerful person. Evan is a thoughtful, sharp, clever person. Together, they create a fascinating chemistry and no one is compelled to give any more or less than they really want to give. Feminists rejoice! This isn't romance for its own sake.
I would recommend this read to anyone who loves romance (like, romantic romance and not sexy romance, that is) and who appreciates a fun, light read about teens. I have to admit I don't have any readalikes for this one because it is so much lighter than my usual fare. That speaks more to my own tastes than it does to the themes of this novel!