Most Likely to Succeed (Jennifer Echols)

Most Likely to Succeed is the third novel in the Superlatives series by Jennifer Echols.
Finished on: 3.9.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other novels in the series.]

Content Note: racism

Plot:
Kaye has always been a high achiever, just like her boyfriend Aiden. They are both on the student council (he as president, she as vice-president) and it will be a close call who of the both of them will become valedictorian. In any case, they will apply for Columbia together and their life is pretty much laid out from there. Only that recently Kaye hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Sawyer, bad boy, class clown with a difficult family history and an uncertain future – in short, the complete opposite of Aiden. As circumstances – and friends – keep pushing them together and they become ever more flirtatious, Kaye starts to question the plans for her life.

Most Likely to Succeed, or rather Kaye and Sawyer as a couple, have been teased since book one in the series, so there was some anticipation on how things would play out, and I have to say that it was fine, but it didn’t blow me away, unfortunately.

The book cover showing a Black girl sitting on a chair with a white boy striking an exaggerated pose behind her.

Most Likely to Succeed was a quick, fun read, don’t get me wrong. Like with the other two books, I read it in a day and was completely engaged with it. So it’s far from being a bad read or one that doesn’t work at all. But it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped it would be, probably because the drama was really dialled up here, and that’s just not my thing. And I also struggled a little with the portrayal of Kaye and Sawyer both.

Kaye is Black, which is awesome – we only very rarely get romance novels with Black protagonists, so yay! But I’m not entirely sold on how her family was portrayed. Her mother – who came from poverty, whose brother was shot in a drug deal, and who keeps dragging her children to the bad parts of town to scare the shit out of them and make them compliant – seemed a little too much like a stereotype to me. I just didn’t feel that this part was done with the necessary complexity. Plus, there is a weird moment where Kaye talks about Aiden being racist, but is told by Sawyer that she is mistaken. Mind you, Sawyer is white. It felt more incredibly awkward to say the least, and not like a thoughtful engagement with racism by a white author.

Sawyer was stereotypical in a different way: the alleged bad boy from a difficult family background who turns out to not only work two jobs alongside school, but also scoring highly on tests (so he must be super-smart) and actually getting good grades, only nobody knows. And I can see the appeal of that construct in general, but it doesn’t work for me. Plus, I would have loved a simple: “yes, his grades suck, but who cares, he is doing the best he can”. Or maybe a “he doesn’t need to be super-smart and an academic achiever, he has other qualities”.

Narratively, I thought that there was a tad too much drama overall, but I was fine with it – until the very last bit where Sawyer gets angry at Kaye for a note she’s written and I was really confused because where did he get that note from all of a sudden? Or had he been sitting on it for weeks and it suddenly burst out of him? And then, just as suddenly as this conflict appears, it is over and the book is done. The pacing was completely off here. More annoyingly, narratively it was absolutely unnecessary to have this final meltdown.

These things kept me from loving the book as much as I would have liked. I still enjoyed it, that’s for sure, but it was, to me, the weakest of the three books that just didn’t fulfill the expectations it had been building in the books that came before it.

Summarizing: I’ll stick with the other books in the series.

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