Review—Date Me, Bryson Keller by Kevin van Whye

[Goodreads Link]
Published by Penguin Random House / Random House Books for Young Readers Imprint

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Content Warnings:
Religious homophobia, casual homophobia and regular homophobia. Genre-typical descriptions of mild violence and injuries.

The Good
– Cute, but not obnoxiously cute
– Adorable, fluffy romance
– Emotionally wholesome as hell
– Both Kai and Bryson are really likeable
– Fun supporting cast
– Reasonable level of drama to keep things real

The Bad
– Series of events leading up to the titular “Date me” moment feels contrived
– Some super choppy chapter endings
– Some parts are clunky or awkward
– Kai’s sister was a little ridiculous

(20 LGBTQ Books in 2020 #7—Fake Dating Trope)

Despite a few rough edges, Date Me, Bryson Keller is super sweet and super readable.

Story—★★★☆☆
As a dare, Bryson Keller must date the first person to ask him out each week. It’s gone on for two months now, and he has neither grown tired of it nor fallen in love. Enter Kai Sheridan: super-closeted protagonist. Life conspires to make both Kai and Bryson late for class on the same morning. Bryson due to family struggles and Kai due to Bryson-fangirl struggles. When Bryson voices his relief that no one’s asked him out yet, Kai decides, in the moment, the best way to get back at Bryson for his late slip is to ask Bryson out for the week.

Thus, the two start dating for the week—in secret, to protect Kai’s closetedness.

Date Me, Bryson Keller was pretty darn cute, and Van Whye balanced the cute with enough real content so it never reaches that tooth-hurting level of cute where the reader gets sick of it. The romance was a good balance of sweet and fluffy with some great emotional vulnerability between Kai and Bryson. (I think one of my favourite parts of the book was that they were both emotionally healthy people who still felt fairly real.) A good portion of the book was the two doing typical cute date activities, doing school stuff together or leaning on each other during stressful times.

Van Whye’s touch of drama grounds the fluffiness in something real. It’s always a bit hard to read about homophobia, but the situation stays in reasonable bounds and never toes into ridiculous.

Date Me, Bryson Keller was a bit rough around the edges in terms of presentation. The opening chapters leading up to Kai’s “Date me!” moment are contrived, almost like Van Whye was going over the top to convince readers of the situation for the “Date me!” moment. It’s really not needed and could be condensed into a single chapter. Additionally, a lot of chapter endings were abrupt, awkward or garnished with extra unnecessary lines, as if Van Whye lacked confidence on where to end them or thought they needed (they didn’t) some extra drama.

Characters—★★★☆☆
Kai is anxious and prone to blushing. He wants to be a scriptwriter. He wishes it were easier to be out, but fears what the price comes with it. Religion is important to Kai’s family, and he’s heard enough about sinning from when he used to attend church to keep him closeted—for now. He’s really a good kid, trying his best.

Van Whye really hit the head on the nail with Bryson: Bryson is such a good dude and he never feels fake or contrived. He values fairness and respect. He’s encouraging. He’s a big cheesy when he flirts. I genuinely liked him.

Again, my favourite thing about Kai and Bryson was that they are both emotionally healthy people. There were no fights or drama over stupid things. There was no temporary break-up because one of them acted out or did something really obviously stupid. They were cool and supportive and all-around emotionally wholesome with each other without feeling fake or one-dimensional.

The supporting cast varied in quality, but none were outright bad. Van Whye did a solid job with his characterizations. Priya, Crystal and Kai’s parents were my favourites, while Kai’s sister was a bit too much.

Writing Style—★★★☆☆
Date Me, Bryson Keller is written in first person, past tense from Kai’s point of view.

Van Whye’s writing style was casual and conversational, the flow was good and the book was pretty easy to breeze through. However, there were a lot of filter words, especially like feel and make which detract from the emotional impact.

Themes and Representation—★★★★☆
Date Me, Bryson Keller is an #OwnVoices story about a mixed-race closeted gay teen with anxiety and Van Whye acknowledges he put a lot of himself into Kai.

A big part of Kai’s journey was living his life honestly and authentically, and the happiness it brings in contrast to living his life closeted.

Overall—★★★☆☆

Recommended For…
Not your next mind-blowing reading, but something cute and fun to fill your time and heart. Good for fans of fluffy romance with a bit of drama.

Genres: Young Adult, LGBT+, Romance

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