ARC Review: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert

  • Title: Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute by Talia Hibbert
  • Author: Talia Hibbert
  • Publisher: Joy Revolution
  • Release Date: 1/3/23
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Publisher’s Summary: From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors–and each other. Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine. Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption–yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.) These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her. Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

I loved the Brown Sisters trilogy that Talia Hibbert wrote. I loved the way she captured characters who were mentally ill and plus-size. That representation continued in Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute.

Brad has OCD and does seem to manage it very well. There are a few moments where those around him notice his compulsive behaviors, but Celine steps in to deflect in a way that supports Brad. There is a moment where Celine playfully punches Brad on one shoulder and then punches his other shoulder to even out the sensation. Brad tells her appreciatively that he no longer needs that, but it is lovely that Celine makes sure to do that for him. There is no moment where Brad’s OCD defines him or the way others see him.

I have a soft spot for the academic rivals to lovers trope, and Hibbert does it expertly. Celine and Brad used to be best friends, but they fell out when Brad made new friends on his football team and made Celine feel left out. Hibbert clearly sets out what caused the rift, and it’s hard to blame Celine for feeling hurt by Brad. They are able to talk about what happened and agree to be friends again before it slowly blossoms into something more.

Brad and Celine have such a sweet relationship. It feels so appropriately high school. Jordan, Brad’s best friend teases him that he’s in love with Celine, and Brad denies it but does say that he’s “a tiny bit obsessed with the idea of kissing her.” When he learns that Celine returns his feelings, he compares himself to a labrador puppy.

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute doesn’t take itself too seriously. The book is narrated in alternating sections by Brad and Celine, and Hibbert writes them in a way that is both funny and always authentic. It always sounds like a teenager speaking. When Celine throws mud at Brad, Brad observes:

There’s a visceral splat as it hits my chest, and I see satisfaction on her face for about 0.2 seconds before the expression vanishes like a snuffed-out candle. Her jaw drops. Her eyes are wide. She’s a bit like that painting, the one with the scream.

The description is funny and paints such a clear picture of Celine’s reaction.

I had a great time reading Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute. I hope Hibbert continues to write YA because this book is so sweet and fun and addresses important issues.

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