Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

At the ripe old age of 23, Krystin is passing down the mantle of Rodeo Queen Montana and stepping into the next phase of her life. . . if only she knew what she wanted that to be. She does know she wants a stable and happy partnership like her parents’ and that marriage and kids are what she’s supposed to want. However, her few attempts at connection with men left her unmoved (and somewhat squeamish). As a fan of the romance reality show Hopelessly Devoted, Krystin watched as Devotee Josh’s heart was broken on national television. When that sweet, likable man is announced as the next Romantic, Krystin signs up for the show. After all, how could she not fall in love with him if she puts the same determination and work into getting married as she does as a competitive athlete?

Lauren doesn’t do anything for the right reason, and she’s ok with that as long as she achieves her goals. Her new goal: use her tenure as a Devotee on Hopelessly Devoted to increase her subscriber count and land sponsorships. The show is her favorite, and she has every “plot” beat, every choice consequence, and every angle for favorability down to a science. She knows being at least one of the final six Devotees will earn her enough sympathy to boost her following. Sure, Lauren’s secretly a lesbian, but it’s all fake anyway, so who could possibly get hurt?

What Lauren doesn’t expect is earnest and trusting Krystin. Lauren is almost shocked that Krystin’s sweet näiveté isn’t an act and that she’s truly there to marry a stranger. Lauren’s also shocked and displeased that she’s drawn to the horse girl and helps keep her around. When an unexpected kiss upends both their worlds, will Lauren and Krystin open up and reach for what their hearts desire or make all the wrong choices?

Until the Golden Bachelor, the closest I’d come to watching a romantic reality show was a drama about making one, but I’d always wondered what might happen if queer contestants were attracted to the people they truly spent the most time with. Here for the Wrong Reasons promised to answer that question and seemed like gloriously messy fun. And it is so, SO messy. Krystin’s queerness is buried so deeply, she can’t help but see straight. Her only close female relationship is with her best friend, so she believes the draw towards girls is a universal female experience and the sickness at meeting new guys has to be butterflies. She desperately pursues validation of her idea of herself and that her path to the happiness missing from her life outside the rodeo ring is heteronormative conformity.

Conversely, Lauren can admit her attraction to Krystin, but is so determined to boost her career, it’s a hindrance. Lauren is manipulative, aloof, and jaded; she deems everyone to be like her—outwardly artificial and only concerned with their personal agendas. However, she isn’t as callous or villainous as expected by her own characterization. She avoids the drama to look good, sure, but also isn’t inclined to meanness, and her manipulations are targeted at Josh. His apparent nice guy schtick doesn’t stop him from cheerfully capitalizing on being pursued by thirty odd attractive women and the copious opportunities to make out (and in quick succession). I found Lauren’s cynical asides, utter confusion at her helpfulness, and allergy to even a whiff of vulnerability funny. I also appreciated that her unapologetic unlikability doesn’t magically disappear as she falls in love.

Though expressed differently, Lauren and Krystin are both closed off and alone, and their intense connection confuses and scares them. Krystin sacrifices self-awareness to tightly lock down her queerness and forget its existence. She has no identity other than her external one of Rodeo Queen. Her attraction to Lauren makes her face that she clings to the idea of marriage to Josh to stay anchored to the “correct” identity and future. Lauren has never felt good enough and walled up her true self to avoid anyone judging her inadequate. Her only real connection is with her best friend, but that’s partly due to them fake dating. They’re both hiding their queerness, and it’s a situation where being only good enough can’t hurt her. Both women’s inner conflict and personalities are conveyed more by telling than showing, but it works for the environment and extra baggage the narrative carries because of the contest structure.

The show is modeled beat for beat after The Bachelor(-ette), so YMMV on how much you enjoy the inevitable friction, falseness, and game-playing. However, I think the authors succeed at giving just enough of these interactions to create the appropriate atmosphere without becoming too bogged down in elements, such as alliance building and villain creation. I also appreciated the look into how much projection the pursued in a show like this does as they are ensnared by the fantasy; Josh’s feelings of so much chemistry and passionate, emotional union in his kisses with the MCs have more to do with him than their acting. I also liked that confessionals provide humor and quick overviews of character motivations, but one or two could have been skipped, especially since the characters aren’t fleshed out and/or some don’t appear until the confessional and eliminations. This excess drags the pace early on and makes Lauren and Krystin’s lack of interaction more obvious. There is a spark upon meeting, but they spend the time before their first kiss at odds. Knowing where the book is going, I could infer Krystin’s steadfast anger and occasional hints of discomfort at masking attraction, but I was as startled as the MCs by the kiss. I had to go back to make sure I hadn’t missed some internal monologues to reach that point. Frankly, it’s not earned, but for me, the authors do enough to make it believable for why a character initiated it out of nowhere.

Honestly, I think the entirety of Here for the Wrong Reasons is your mileage may vary, as it’s more about the vibes and what might give people the ick about a show like this—the forced polyamory, the queer erasure, and the playacting. The book is a bit too long, has jarring transitions from the lack of scene change designations (at least in the ARC), and has thin secondary characters. Lauren and Krystin’s change in status is abrupt and based a lot in good sex, especially for the innocent Krystin. However, the writing style and tone are perfect for the narrative, and for me, the MCs’ journeys to self-discovery and emotional accessibility (and the promised messiness) are enough to carry the story.