Tomboy to the core, Toni Valentine understands guys. She’ll take horror movies, monster hunts and burping contests over manicures. So Toni is horrified when she’s sent to the Winston Academy for Girls, where she has to wear a skirt and learn to be a lady while the guys move on without her.
Then Toni meets Emma Elizabeth, a girl at school with boy troubles, and she volunteers one of her friends as a pretend date. Word spreads of Toni’s connections with boys, and she discovers that her new wealthy female classmates will pay big money for fake dates. Looking for a way to connect her old best friends with her new life at school, Toni and Emma start up Toni Valentine’s Rent-A-Gent Service.
But the business meets a scandal when Toni falls for one of her friends–the same guy who happens to be the most sought-after date. With everything she’s built on the line, Toni has to decide if she wants to save the business and her old life, or let go of being one of the guys for a chance at love.
I received this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. (Coming straight from my heart guys.)
The premise of the book was pretty original. I’ve always enjoyed books about tomboys, and the main character, Toni, seemed like a pretty hardcore one. However, there is pretty much one word that applies throughout the book: predictable.
Toni Valentine does not have any girl friends. Her best friends consist of boys that she grew up with: Loch, Ollie, and Cowboy. These are all nicknames that have developed over the years. In the beginning of the book, Toni gets herself in trouble by playing a prank on her high school’s principal, landing herself in the oh-so-scary Winston Academy for Girls. As Tony tries to adjust to the new developments of her life, she also attempts to hold on to her old friendships.
This leads to the foundation of her Rent-A-Gent Service, which is like an escort service but without the inappropriate stuff. Basically, a male fills in for a girl on a totally platonic date, whether to make someone jealous or get parents off the girl’s back. It’s a pretty cute idea, but also quite unrealistic. But then again, what adolescent wouldn’t say know to the money rolling in?
Helping Toni is a girl that she befriends in her new school, Emma Elizabeth. Emma is a superb example of a girl friendship without the overabundance of drama. She helps with Toni’s business quite a bit, and pretty soon the dough comes crawling in. Let’s face it: private academies are the best places to ensnare rich girls into forking over money. There’s a catch though – the guys that are the “escorts” in the services? They’re the best guy friends Toni has been with all her life, and after a while relationships change. People change. And one by one they withdraw, leaving Toni in a mess – torn between helping the best buds of her past, or conforming to the social standards of her new school.
Let’s get started with the people, shall we? I just really wish I could have empathized with the characters more. Toni’s friends have different situations, and they’re all different people. Loch is pretty smooth, while Ollie’s a shy guy, and so forth. However, we never really go in-depth with the characters. They’re just there, for Toni to mope about while they start separating from her.
Oh yeah, and the guy “Toni falls for” in the blurb? His character was not very interesting to me, although I do appreciate the slow buildup from friendship into crush. The downside I’d have for this would be that it wasn’t a smooth transition. I could totally tell this dude had the hots for Toni from the first couple of chapters. It just took most of the book for Toni to realize.
I really enjoy it when authors do the “show, not tell” thing, and this was pretty evident in this book. We are shown that Toni is pretty much… one of the guys. What I didn’t enjoy about it was the “showings” she did. I guess in the author’s world, being “one of the guys” = burping, wearing basketball shorts, and not caring about “feminine things” (including the color pink), scratching one’s butt, you get the point. I just feel like she could have done so much more with this idea. Alas, burping is the most masculine thing we get. And because I got so annoyed, here is a compilation (with my commentary!) of every time Toni did something “tomboy-ish(?)” and I inwardly cringed:
“A massive belch escapes me.”
When I get introduced to a character and read something like this, I get second-handed embarrassment for them. It’s like I’m meeting Toni, but in the first five minutes of introduction she burps. Which makes me really uncomfortable, but hey that’s her character so whatever’s groovy.
“I respond by covering my mouth and sneezing so hard that a giant wad of snot lands in the palm of my head.”
All of my guy friends have better hygiene this girl.
“I land on the shaggy carpet with a giant thud and let out a belly-shattering belch that could put any beer-guzzler to shame.”
Why is she proud of this omg.
“When the group session ends, I run to the bathroom and scrath my butt in peace.”
But the question is: did you reach under your pants to do it, or was it a quick over-the-pants scratch?
“I hold my stomach and burp, releasing the frustration from the week.”
If I burped up all my frustrations from a single week I’d probably be dead because of lack of gas left in my digestive tract.
“I drink all of Loch’s beer and let out a big belch.”
This sounds like a narration from a fourty-year old single man who sits on his lawn in the evening with a can of beer and leers at neighbors and their kids.
“Only after my door is closed and locked do I feel relaxed enough to let out a belch.”
Hey man now she knows to close the door before doing the deed! And lock it! Winston Academy is sure paying off.
Seriously though, there could have been a more… elegant way of showing tomboy tendencies.
Additional things I enjoyed were Toni’s relationship with her mother and step-father, the friendship that developed between her and Emma, and her realization that embracing her womanhood isn’t as bad as it seems.
“‘Being feminine does not equal less than, Toni,’ Emma says. ‘You’re allowed to embrace your womanhood if you want to.'”
The ending of the story, like the rest of it, was predictable. But I won’t say it isn’t a nice ending, because it is quite a fulfilling ending. To me, everything got wrapped up like a bow and all of Toni’s problems were fixed during the last couple of scenes – everything came out so nice it was almost unrealistic. However, I’m sure more readers will enjoy the simplicity of the ending and how conclusive and satisfying it was.
I would definitely recommend this story for girls who believe themselves to be tomboys (maybe compare their behaviors with Toni’s and laugh about it), and in the long run learn to accept themselves for who they are. This is also a coming of age novel, so teen readers who like to see developing characters and a nice, gradual romance will enjoy this.
Quotes are from an ARC copy and are subject to change upon publication.