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Book Review: Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q Sutanto

Book Review: Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q Sutanto

If you can imagine Crazy Rich Asians as a book about teens where the younger Rachel and Nick stand-ins were faking their relationship all along, then you have an idea of what you can expect from Jesse Q Sutantos new YA rom-com novel Well, That Was Unexpected. This book is a warm and heartfelt coming-of-age story that masterfully captures the feeling of those awkward teenage years when youre learning more about yourself, your family and your relationships, and its one that has the added benefit of playing out against the brilliant backdrop of Indonesia – with a splash of added billionaire glamour for good measure too.

The novel kicks off with Californian teen Sharlot Citra as she decides to lose her virginity to her gorgeous, strait-laced boyfriend Bradley, only for her mama to walk in on them at a very inopportune moment. Before long, Sharlot is whisked away to Jakarta for the summer where she meets her extended family for the first time and finally gets to experience her mother’s home country for herself. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, George Clooney Tanuwijaya sends his very wealthy, very influential family into a tailspin when his dad and younger sister walk in on him enjoying some private time of his own, prompting his father to takes matters into his own hands when he fears he no longer understands his son.

What Sharlot doesn’t know, however, is that her mum has set her up with a profile on the Indonesian social media app ShareIt, where she’s been talking to a handsome young boy called George – whose dad is sending messages right back. Mortified by their parents’ catfishing and subsequent matchmaking attempts, George and Sharlot agree to go on one date to appease their families, but things quickly spiral out of control even further when the media gets wind of the billionaire Tanuwijaya family’s only male heir and his first girlfriend. With the launch of a new app on the horizon and appearances to maintain, both George and Sharlot are soon caught up in a highly-publicised (and very fake) relationship where everyone has a role to play – and everyone has a secret to keep.

This all makes for a joyful and surprisingly relatable read, especially as Sutanto doesnt shy away from exploring the embarrassing, awkward moments that go hand in hand with discovering yourself and falling in love as a young person either – whether thats the embarrassment of meddling families, the self-conscious battling of insecurities or even just ending up plain old tongue-tied around your newfound crush (and kicking yourself for it later). Sharlot and George’s relationship may not begin on the most realistic of footings, but their growing connection is nothing but familiarly and endearingly awkward when it gets going, with both teens constantly questioning what’s coming out of their mouths, battling hormones and wrestling with secrets as they slowly get to know and begin to feel more comfortable with the other.

He glances up, sees me, and there’s a moment of something. Something that makes my breath catch. Something real, like for a split second, both of us are unmasked and I’m seeing the boy behind the big name and finding he’s just as vulnerable and lost as I am.”

As fun and sweet as George and Sharlot’s relationship turns out to be, however, it’s a payoff that you really have to work for, not least because Sharlot is a character you struggle to like at first. From the beginning, Sharlot is moody, mean and sullen, and she can be deliberately cutting, angry and spiteful to those around her. Any moment of vulnerability that Sharlot feels, with her mum in particular, is immediately covered up with anger as Sharlot lashes out to hurt others instead. While you can understand why Sharlot is acting in this way – and, admittedly, it makes it all the more noticeable when her mindset does shift later on – it is also mostly unnecessary, and makes for very frustrating reading. By default, Well, That Was Unexpected feels a little uneven, with readers much preferring to spend time with George and his much more sympathetic point of view.

Still, there’s a lot to like about this book, and Sutanto does a fantastic job of exploring a lot of big issues too. A key subplot of this novel is George’s work on his app, which seeks to address toxic masculinity, while Sharlot is quick to call out sexist stereotypes and misogyny too. There’s also no avoidance of the fact that this novel largely takes place in a more conservative society, with the knowledge that extra pressure is placed on women and young girls to appear and behave a certain way in public, while LGBTQ characters are pressured to keep a key part of themselves hidden too, all of which Sutanto explores with sensitivity and compassion. A special mention also has to go to Sutanto’s descriptions of Indonesia and of the culinary tour that readers get to experience alongside Sharlot – all of which Santanto brings to life in such gloriously vivid detail that you more than likely won’t be able to make it to the end of the novel without looking up holidays to Jakarta at least once.

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In all, Well, That Was Unexpected is a fun, escapist read based on a series of unlikely events that culminates in a whirlwind fake relationship and the chance for a real connection to form between two people who were brought together under very misleading circumstances. While the story is noticeably repetitive at times and the plot is largely convoluted and unrealistic, this is ultimately a light and entertaining read that’s bolstered by its wonderful cast of characters, its beautiful backdrop and the cute YA romance at its heart.


Well, That Was Unexpected was published by Electric Monkey on 10 November 2022

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