Book Review: It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood

Rating: 3 out of 5.

With all that’s been happening in the world, and all the heavy books and articles I’ve been reading, and the news programs blasting a new crisis every hour, I really felt like I need something light to calm my soul. This book sounded like just the thing.

It follows an eighteen-year-old Australian girl, named Natalie, who, at the end of her final year at school, finds out her parents are breaking up. All of a sudden, there are too many things changing and freaking her out. And then this guy she never even considered before pops into the equation and makes things a million times more complicated.

Cute, right?

Well… for the most part, it was.

The book was actually pretty funny. Our protagonist, Natalie – who takes the role of first-person narrator – is kind of witty, in that makes-really-specific-jokes-that-are-so-out-of-left-field-you-can’t-help-but-laugh way, you know? But she’s also insightful, and says somethings that I found myself nodding my head to. Or should I not admit that, since I’m decidedly older than 18, and therefore should not be relating to her? Ah, whatever. I did relate in ways.

If there’s one thing I know for certain about myself, it is my unfailing ability to ruin my own happiness.

She has this self-deprecating humour, which is just my type, and her inner-monologue was really entertaining, and addictive, almost. I couldn’t stop reading, because it was so easy to read and follow. Natalie also has some major self-esteem issues that were written really well. The descriptive work on the extreme acne was well done. I’ve never had acne, but Kenwood wrote it in a way that I could understand and empathise with. There was just this nagging feeling every time I read it though – because she’d always write how much her skin affected her life, and all I could think was that it was a bit insensitive to BIPOC, who actually have major problems because of their skin. I don’t know if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill – I understand that the protagonist is eighteen and young people fixate on things a lot, and often can’t see outside of their own problems. But maybe it would’ve been nice for Natalie to acknowledge at some point that her problems are very minuscule compared to some others. Something. The thing is, I don’t blame her for being so extra about it because I have my own issues that are very small compared to other people’s problems, but feel huge to me, and have had a major impact on my life.

It just rubbed me the wrong way reading about it.

Imagine the freedom of someone who had never thought about their skin, ever.

Is the above quote not a little bit odd, coming from a white girl? Maybe Natalie was supposed to come off immature, and a bit naive. I’m sure she was, actually. She’s inexperienced, and awkward, and shy. But, in this day and age, this political climate, maybe Kenwood could have written it a bit smarter. This was published in 2019, so maybe if I’d read it last year, I wouldn’t have noticed it as much. I don’t know. I can’t travel back in time and make sure. But, reading it in 2020, listening to Natalie complaining about her skin as a white girl in Australia felt kind of wrong.

Aside from that, the plot was a little strange, in that there almost wasn’t one. The book was about a romance, as all rom-coms are, but also about Natalie’s life changing because of school and her parents’ breaking up and her friends’ lives. But, somehow, even though all of these things happened in the book, none of them intersected. It was like they were all running parallel to one another. None of them affected the other. Even though Zach was in two of the storylines, it was still as if they were separate somehow. Plus, you’d think her parents’ breakup would be the major plot point running through the whole novel, but several chapters go by without her even thinking about her parents.

It just felt really disjointed.

Then we get to the romance. What to say about the romance?

I didn’t hate it.

But I didn’t love it.

The main reason for that is that there was hardly any foundation! Natalie meets the love interest, who she’s met before but claims she doesn’t really like him or trust him because he’s popular and she avoids popular boys. This interaction does nothing to change her perception of him – at least not to me. But not, twenty pages later, they’re at a party, and getting into a deep-and-meaningful chat about his brothers and his ex and the meaning of life, and it’s like a new Natalie, because she’s not awkward at all, and making great small-talk, even though she told us just before that she can’t make small-talk and, also, this guy is someone she’s naturally wary of. Why are they all of a sudden all comfy and cosy together? It makes no sense! And it just keeps making no sense. Kenwood scatters in some bits of dialogue that might imply our love interest had feelings for Natalie before the book ever started, but it’s never confirmed, which really didn’t work in favour of the book.

I didn’t buy his crush, or Natalie’s crush.

Neither of them had any reason to be into each other at all.

Sure, maybe Natalie is one of those people who makes eye-contact with a stranger and then concocts a whole life story with them. But the love interest didn’t seem that type.

So why was he, all of a sudden, so head-over-heels, stuttering-and-stumbling, can’t-live-without-you in love?

I started off writing what I liked, then went off on a tangent about what I didn’t, so my three-star rating probably makes no sense. Let me clarify. I didn’t like a lot of the above, but there was enough there for me to actually enjoy reading the book. It was very short, super quick. The writing wasn’t amazing, but Natalie’s narration was funny. Like I said, it had barely any plot, so it felt more like a long internal monologue or a disjointed journal with entries ripped out. But the characters were fun, and likeable. There was this one bit where they’re talking about cheating that was really simplified, and I liked that.

“Did [she] consider it cheating?”

“Yes.”

“Was she upset?”

“Yes.”

“Well, there you go.”

Bravo.

(take that Ross ‘we-were-on-a-break’ Gellar)

There were some serious issues discussed – a lot of emphasis on parents getting divorced and how the children are affected. At first, I was a bit annoyed at Natalie for being a bit petty, but it also felt real. In those situations, nobody is happy, and I don’t think anyone can be blamed for being a bit bitter.

Generally, I liked it.

But I didn’t adore it. It did the job of calming my soul, because it was so easy. And the romance – even though there was no foundation and I didn’t ‘ship it’ – had its cute moments.

OH – double points because it mentioned my suburb at one point. I really love reading books set in my city. I need more of that.

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