Book Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Posted June 19, 2015 by Debby in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie WestThe Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West
Published by HarperTeen on May 5th, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased

When Gia Montgomery's boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she'd been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend— two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it's not the real Bradley she's thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn't even know. But tracking him down doesn't mean they're done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend's graduation party — three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship.

4.5 Stars

Kasie West is one of my absolute all-time favorite authors, as anyone who has read my blog probably knows. I will pre-order all of her books from now until the end of time, and read them almost as soon as they enter my hands. Such was the case with The Fill-In Boyfriend, which wasn’t only promising me excellent romantic fluff, but also one of my favorite tropes of all time: fake dating. This book is fluffy, awesome, and filled with meaningful character growth.

The Fill-In Boyfriend tells the story of Gia, who is dumped… at prom. This was going to be the first time her friends met her boyfriend, who goes to a college a fair ways away, and her frenemy, Jules, had been constantly insinuating that he doesn’t exist. So Gia, desperate to save face, gets a guy to fill in for him. Huzzah to the fake dating trope! It is one of my absolute favorites, for serious. And Kasie West does it well. When Gia and Hayden strike up this deal, they first go back and forth pretending to date to alternately impress her friends and prove to his ex he’s moved on. But in no time, a genuine, caring friendship develops between the two. With this geeky boy (who wore a TARDIS shirt when they first met, instantly winning my heart) Gia finds it easier to be herself and relax. And Hayden is a brilliant fake date – too sweet and adorable for words. Seriously. No words. It didn’t take long to ship them very fiercely.

But obviously, this set up does not come without its consequences. Gia lied to her friends to save face, but when genuine feelings start developing, those lies are in danger of being exposed. And that is extremely hard for her. Gia is actually one of the most popular girls in her class – which is quite unusual for a YA protagonist. Her image means a lot to her, and her friendships have come under strain recently. She does feel really close to Claire and Laney, but Jules, a more recent addition to their friends group, seems to be constantly subverting her, trying to dethrone her as the queen bee and kick her out of the group.

In addition, being with Hayden makes Gia want to be better. To not always act in the ways that are expected of her. To not bully the goth kids just for looking different. It forces her to realize the pointless cruelty and unflinching privilege that had become all too normal to her. And I love that kind of relationship. It’s a relationship that challenges her to look at herself and to grow. It challenges her beliefs and accepted truths and makes her realize it doesn’t have to be that way. A lot of that is also because of Bec, Hayden’s sister, who at first absolutely despises Gia and all that she stands for, because she is one of those goth kids who gets ridiculed by the popular crowd. The two actually eventually have a grudging friendship which made my heart soar.

What did surprise me was that this book wasn’t nearly as fluffy and happy as I was expecting. There’s actually quite a tough story here about the social media generation: teenagers nowadays who construct their self-image around what would get the most likes and followers online. Social media is the new place to agonize over popularity – and, yes, as a blogger, I totally get that. This theme was so personally relevant that it felt almost brutal at times, as Gia is confronted with the fact that she’s far too obsessed with image and is hardly letting her true self out. She doesn’t even really know who she is. There’s a strong character growth arc there that I will always treasure – which I will be coming back to when I feel like the social media pressures are getting to me. So props for this unexpectedly beautiful story.

That theme spills over into Gia’s family and their relationships. They’re the family that’s envied by everyone – who never fight, who always look perfectly put together, etc. etc. But Gia discovers that a lot of that is just because they’re all repressing themselves in an effort to keep up that image. It’s a brutal reality check when she realizes that her family’s not as perfect or enviable as everyone thinks. It’s when she’s spending time with Hayden and Bec that she realizes what true, heartfelt relationships should be like – as friends, partners, and family, and that’s just absolutely beautiful.

I know that friends and followers might be shocked by the fact that I’m giving Kasie West anything less than a perfect score. And yeah, I’ll grant you that it surprised me as well. But it comes from two main (tiny) things. First off, as far as fake dating shenanigans go, I couldn’t help but compare this to The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes, and that book was just so much more feelsy for me. That book reached flailing-uncontrollably-in-bed levels, and this one just didn’t quite get there. And it also featured a popular girl coming to terms with her true self, so I think the stories were just a bit too close for me. And second, it’s the mean girl thing. I don’t understand Jules’s motivation for a second, and it frustrates me so much. I’m just done with mean girl shenanigans in YA – they give me such headaches. The ending was fair enough, as Gia discovers what true friends are like and cuts out the ones not worth her time, but it made me feel really sad.

Summing Up:

I feel like this whole review was maybe a waste of time, because it’s obvious by now that any book Kasie West writes will be instantly loved and gushed over by me. But nonetheless, The Fill-In Boyfriend is fluffy, fun, and surprisingly deep. The romance is on point, and the ship is basically flawless. The social media element and character growth arc almost broke my heart with how personally relevant they were. Basically: there were feels exploding everywhere. Any book by Kasie West is a “must read”, if you ask me. Definitely recommended.

GIF it to me straight!

Recommended To:

Fans of the fake dating trope and just (banter)fluffy romances in general.

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7 responses to “Book Review: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

  1. The GIF is perfect for this book and sums it all up.

    I love Gia and Hayden. The way he made her look at herself and her development made this book precious to me. It could be a little confronting when Gia realize how much pressure she puts on her image and how people see her. I also like how this book made me laugh out loud a couple of times 🙂

    It was for me a really nice balance of romance/fluff, banter and something serious. Kasie West is one of the few authors that make me excited about contemporaries. I can’t wait to read her next book 😀

  2. I LOVED the Pivot Point series, but I am really dragging my feet on her contemp novel. I would love to see more sci-fi from her.

    In the meantime…….mmmaaaannnnnn I don’t know if I want to add another book to my wish list…..

  3. I really need to read this! It almost happened on vacation, but alas, not enough time… But I’m glad to hear that you liked it, even if it wasn’t the feelsplosion of The Art of Lainey 🙂

  4. I adored this one! It was definitely more about Gia’s growth as a character more than the romance. I wanted a *tad* bit more fluffy and cute, but I did love how it wasn’t the defining focus of the story. I think many people/teens, girls especially, can relate to Gia’s importance on image and popularity. And also relate to her insecurity and her not knowing who she really is. I loved how, through her relationships with the fill-in boyfriend, his sister, and their mom, and through finally opening her eyes to what’s more important in life, she grew into her own. It definitely took her awhile, but she had such beautiful character development!

    I actually thought of The Art of Lainey when I read this too! Lots of similarities and made me have a lot of the same feelings. Fake dating is not my favorite romance trope, but I’ve read many that have worked out well for me, and this was one of them. Glad to see you loved it too! Kasie’s one of my all-time favorites too. Wonderful review!

  5. I love Kasie West, I haven’t been disappointed by any of her books. I really enjoyed this one but also struggled with the whole mean girl aspect of it. I just didn’t get it at all. I also thought the characters seemed far too immature for their age, which bothered me when I was reading it.