A few years ago, someone in the year ahead of Noah at high school came out as transgender. From what Noah knew, the bullying got so bad that the girl left school entirely. She never knew that it was her courage to come out that gave Noah the courage he needed to transition. She also inspired Noah to start the Meet Cute Diary blog. It was intended to serve as a beacon for any and all transgender people in need of a beacon of hope—namely the hope that they, too, could find true love. In reality, it is Noah re-scripting his myriad encounters to give the visage of multitudes of transgender people meeting someone and falling desperately in love.
The blog is a big commitment and a bigger part of Noah’s whole sense of self. He works hard at it with some help from his best friend, Becca. Together, they have figured out how to please the masses. That is, until a troll comes along and accuses Noah of being entirely fake. The accusations are bad enough, but then the blog starts to bleed followers. It’s just Noah’s luck that this happens just as he and his family are leaving Florida for California. While his parents house hunt, Noah is left to spend the summer with his college-aged older brother in Colorado. And worse, his parents expect him to find a summer job. As luck would have it, a local bookstore is hiring. Noah doesn’t get the job, but it is the setting for his very own meet-cute with a very hot boy named Drew. Even better: Drew is somehow a fan of the Meet Cute Blog. Together, Noah and Drew set about cooking up amazing posts about their instagram worthy dating life. The trouble is, the longer Noah goes out with Drew, the more he begins to wonder if their entire relationship is only about the blog.
Help comes from a surprising place—a fellow counselor from the day camp where Noah’s brother got him a gig. The counselor is a seventeen-year old named Devin and he seems, well, a bit socially awkward. Despite a rocky start to being co-camp counselors, Noah discovers that Devin is truly an amazing person. Unlike Noah’s blog-obsessed boyfriend, his girlfriend-obsessed brother, and his in absentia best friend, Devin is always ready to talk with and listen to Noah. Noah tries to reciprocate by helping Devin explore how he/they/xe/e chooses to identify and before they know it, a friendship is forming fast. Too bad Noah’s boyfriend doesn’t like even the suggestion of competition for Noah’s attention. Suddenly, Noah’s reevaluating his assumptions about what romance is, meet-cutes not withstanding.
Meet Cute Diary is a contemporary young adult novel by author Emery Lee. It features a core cast of mainly high-school or just-graduated teenagers during their summer vacation. It’s told in first person from Noah’s point of view. The structure of the main story is pretty straightforward and the table of contents literally lays out the timing of the events with specific dates. Each chapter begins with one of the twelve steps to finding love that Noah has crafted for himself: the meet-cute, the hand of destiny, the invitation, the consultation, the trip, the hesitation, and on to the happily-ever-after. I liked having this overt scaffolding to establish the shape and pacing of the story; I thought it provided great structure and purpose. This set-up also creates a great way to show how Noah consciously attempts to control the romance in his life…and how real life does not always follow the script.
The 12-steps-to-find-love dovetails extremely well at the beginning because the love interest, Drew, is very on board with Noah’s blog and its mission to provide positive role models for trans romance. I also thought this how-to guide to love was super sweet and felt a lot like something into which a teenager might invest a lot of time and energy. That said, I often viewed Drew’s role in the story with a mountain of suspicion and I’m not sure if that was intentional. As the story progresses, it’s clear that the Noah/Drew relationship is less about a romantic connection and more about using their mutual like for one another to bolster their own egos. As a result, the moment Devin was introduced, I immediately latched onto him as a potential true love interest.
The Noah/Devin friendship ended up being far more sweet than I ever could have anticipated. That they start off on the wrong foot and Noah often blurts words to the effect of “I have a boyfriend”—as if to remind himself as much as Devin of the fact—made it all the sweeter. Of course, Noah’s committed to his 12 steps of romance with Drew, so it takes a while for Noah to even feel comfortable thinking of Devin as something other than “that person I work with.” As things fall apart with Noah and Drew, Devin is there to be a friend.
Aside from Noah’s romances, there’s also his relationship with his best friend, Becca, and his older brother, Brian. While Noah’s romantic life does form a big cornerstone of his current relationship to Becca, it’s not the only thing they talk about. Both friends are getting used to being physically apart from one another and, of course, not being immediately reachable by text or phone leads to some hurt feelings. Noah also has a bit of self-discovery regarding how he has managed his friendship with Becca. I didn’t feel like the two were able to fully and transparently resolve their issues on page for the reader to see, but they seem to get back onto the right track. I also loved that it was Becca—or, more accurately, a list she made for Noah that outlines what qualities she expects Noah’s significant other to possess—that finally pushes Noah into admitting that Drew is not actually the right one for him. In the same vein, Brian is shown to be an extremely supportive brother who catches himself for misgendering Noah and even calling out a transphobic character. I liked that the supporting characters are very present in the story without feeling like they’re merely there to prop up the plot concerning Noah.
Overall, I thought this was a terrific read. I enjoyed the concept of framing this story using the main Noah’s own rubric for finding love, then watching how that same rubric fails to actually find Noah in love. The semi love-triangle that develops starts off full of hope and sweetness; even if I was never truly excited about Drew, I was excited that Noah was excited. And when Devin comes on page, it was a lot of fun to watch how eir friendship with Noah grows. The best romantic epiphany comes when Noah finally realizes where his heart lies and I really loved how Becca’s list serves to reiterate what Noah already knows. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys stories featuring trans characters, BIPOC characters, fake boyfriend tropes, and accidentally falling in love tropes. Although I consider this a YA title, I think readers of any age will enjoy the story crafting and thrill of watching Noah discover what love is really all about.