One-sided romances suck. For Charlie, they’re sucking three times as much because the three friends he brought out to eat are all accusing him of cheating on them. How is it cheating to have more than one friend at a time? Unfortunately, Cassie, Lesley, and Raymond all thought there was more to the friendship than there was. And Charlie has no idea how he got into this mess … or even how he’s going to get out of it!
Enter Liam, aka Mr. Romance, who intervenes out of the goodness of his heart. It doesn’t take him long to realize the truth: Charlie hasn’t got a clue. Not a single one. And he needs all the help in the world. Charlie is a generous, outgoing, and open-hearted person who assumes that everyone else is just like he is. He takes his friends out to eat, buys them gifts, and drops what he’s doing to be there for them, whether it’s walking them back to their dorm, driving them home for a holiday, attending their flute practices, or whatever they need. And with the observational skills of a brick, and seemingly little empathy or social intelligence, Charlie ends up breaking hearts left and right.
Liam, though, however romantic he is, isn’t in to himbos. He’s certain he’ll be immune to Charlie’s charm as he helps him work out who his friends are — versus the people who want more — and how to delicately and kindly let people know he’s not interested in being more than friends. He’s there to soothe Charlie when some of those friendships end, and he’s there to help when Charlie’s worldview is crumbling around his ears. But who will be there for Liam when he starts catching feelings?
Mr. Romance is the third book in the Franklin U series, a multi-author collection of standalone books. Liam is a hard-working young man who, in order to earn some extra money for college, has become a bit of a dating guru. He helps plan romantic moments, both big and small, from asking someone out to grand gestures for a birthday or milestone moment. He’s good at it. He likes it. The drama, the romance, the fact that he’s making people happy … it all makes him happy. Helping Charlie walk through the minefield of friendships isn’t quite what Liam’s used do, but it’s necessary work, because Charlie and the people falling for him are all getting hurt thanks to Charlie’s blindness. So it’s late night meetings to role play conversations, and helping Charlie set his boundaries and stick to them. Until Charlie comes right up against Liam’s boundaries and everything changes.
Charlie thinks of himself as a good guy and a good friend. Because his parents are well off and he has no money issues, he sees nothing wrong with offering to buy textbooks for someone who needs them, or taking people out to eat dinner because the college cafeteria doesn’t have the best cuisine. Birthday presents, gifts, offers of help and support are just what he does. There’s nothing behind any of it, and no more emotional attachment to the dinner, the textbook, or the car ride than there would be to a wave, a nod, or a smile. However, there is clueless, there’s oblivious, and then there is Charlie. He’s bad at reading people, and blind to their feelings or emotions — in the near decade of his dating life, he’s left a slew of people behind who thought he cared about them while he just didn’t — with a seeming lack of empathy, or perhaps a simple lack of care for the other person in a given situation. When a girl is hurt that he only wants to be friends, Charlie’s upset she doesn’t want to sit next to him in class. Even when Liam explains it to him, why she might need time to get over her hurt, Charlie’s still hurt and offended. When told via text at a party to “Look left” by the character he’s talking with, Charlie’s line of thought is the following:
Huh? Is this some kind of advice I don’t understand? Like… am I supposed to change my perspective of hooking up by… considering things from a more left-leaning view? I dunno. I’m pretty liberal already. My whole family is.
It does not occur to him to turn his head, to look to his left, or to look around at all. It’s not until he’s told, in very simple, step-by-step instructions to turn his head to the left and look at who is standing there that he understands.
This character isn’t just oblivious. It feels like he’s playing his role of the too stupid to live character to the hilt. While this is all very in character for Charlie, it’s very much a sort of humor that I don’t enjoy. Seeing a character made to be laughed at rather than a character in on the joke makes me a little uncomfortable, especially seeing such a character enter into a relationship where the power dynamic will forever be one-sided. Not the money, not the social status, but the intellectual distance between the two of them. Some people will find this cute and charming. I just found it to be very much not to my taste. If you’ve enjoyed the other books in series, then I hope you enjoy this one as well.