The first detail I ever heard about Jenna Guillaume’s new book You Were Made For Me arrived via everyone’s favourite bird app, Twitter. I had been quietly awaiting news of a new novel from Guillaume after reading her debut, What I Like About Me. So I wasn’t surprised when a tweet caught my eye of Guillaume posting the first line of her new novel, which reads:
The day I created a boy started out like any other.
I scrolled past, my mind caught up, and I reversed with a, ‘Wait, what?’ From the second I read that tweet, I was pretty much hooked.
You Were Made For Me follows the story of Katie, who is hopelessly in (unrequited) love with her nemesis’ boyfriend. While discussing the issue with her best friend, Libby, an offhanded remark about creating a perfect guy progresses from a harmless thought to an actual person in Katie’s room within a matter of hours.
It’s a premise that might deter some readers when viewed superficially. The idea that a boy—a real, living, breathing human—could be created out of thin air is a deviation from your typical YA narrative. But that’s exactly what makes this novel so memorable. Too often I find myself scanning bookshelves at my local library and seeing variations on a theme: dystopian romance, vampires vs werewolves, etc. Don’t get me wrong; I love those concepts. I’d happily read them a hundred times over. Yet there remains something truly refreshing about seeing a YA novel that branches out from the pack, that takes a trope and turns it on its head or brings something entirely new to the table.
If you’re looking for something that breaks the status quo, You Were Made For Me is exactly that.
While the novel centres on the creation of Guy and his subsequent relationship with Katie, it would be an injustice to focus solely on this part of the story. For me, the real scene stealers were the side plots and secondary characters whose issues and relationships brought depth, heart and an authentic teenage perspective to Katie’s journey.
Her relationship with best friend Libby was especially well thought out. There are scenes where, as readers, we recognise the shortcomings of Katie before she can see them herself. She displays a self-absorbed ignorance we’ve all been guilty of while Libby is quietly dealing with issues of her own. It’s a flaw that is so important not only in the course of the novel, but in the wider YA landscape. Writing a character who is perfect is dull. It’s also wholly unrealistic. Katie is a teenager who is learning and growing. Her thoughts and actions aren’t always going to be flawless while she’s becoming the person she’s supposed to be. It’s perhaps a subtle trait in the novel, but one that adds a layer of realism that is crucial to this genre.
Katie also faces a romantic conflict throughout the novel, thanks to growing complicated feelings between herself and friend Theo. This unfolds slowly and carefully, with the resulting effect that the final outcome of Katie, Guy and Theo’s intertwined story is completely satisfying, which is no easy feat. To place the romance aside for a moment, I feel it’s especially important to mention an element of Theo’s story which is a clear defining factor in his character. Theo is grieving the loss of his mother, which we view through the lens of Katie’s (and Libby’s) narration. Grief is not an easy emotion to capture. Incorporating this inevitable state of being into a YA novel is a wonderfully responsible storytelling choice. The more that young people can read about characters suffering a loss just like they are, the better. If one person feels they can relate to a character’s experience of grief, or that they can navigate their own feelings more healthily after reading a mirrored situation in a novel, then that is a huge step forward for something that is usually shied away from. Theo’s grief may not form the main plot of this novel, but its relevance and importance—particularly in the landscape we now find ourselves in—cannot be understated.
I thoroughly enjoyed the contrast between our two narrators, Katie and Libby. Telling the story through two voices was a clever choice here and one that allowed greater insight into the girls’ friendship. The balance of scenes between school, home and other settings was also particularly well done. Sometimes, I find that an author will write their about their school-aged characters without actually sending them to school that often. It’s always nice to see a teenage life depicted with accuracy.
This was a novel that is made to binge-read. I finished it in one sitting because once you start, it’s extremely difficult to put down without finding out how it ends.
And the ending? Let’s just say it is one of the best I’ve read in quite some time.
You Were Made For Me is a diverse, innovative and insightful story that is a true antidote to the madness we’re currently living through. Its publication could not have arrived at a more perfect time. Escapism is alive and well in Guillaume’s second novel—and I suspect this is only the start of more to come.
You Were Made For Me can be purchased via your favourite book store from Tuesday 11 August.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for providing a review copy.