UrbanDictionary defines the term “hot mess” as “When one’s thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.” This is Benji Zane in a nutshell. He is an addict, a rockstar chef, and a captivating badboy, who is saved (presumably) from the throes of addiction by the sassy and kind Allie, a young millennial sucked into his world of Instagram-worthy foods and semi-famous thrill rides. To say that I didn’t like this book would be somewhat of a lie, because I stayed up all night reading it. Any book that makes me want to keep reading, despite any misgivings I might have about it, is doing something right. But I have a lot to say about this book, so bear with me on this rant. Don’t worry, I won’t divulge any spoilers.
- Writing: While I loved Allie’s humor and candidness, I can’t help but revert to my editor brain and cringe when I see slang or abbreviations littered throughout a book. It even made me feel old sometimes (I’m Allie’s age), because there were some terms even I didn’t understand. Is this how millennials talk nowadays? “Wait, I have to ‘gram this,” or “OMG, Benji is bae.” This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t really like it when “text speak” is incorporated into a novel. It makes it feel childish to me, and despite being a millennial myself, I certainly don’t insert hashtags and abbreviations into my prose, because it just screams juvenile to me. But that’s just me. On a good note, the writing was enjoyable and made sense in its context most of the time.
- Plot: The premise was something out of a rom-com-gone-haywire, which appealed to me, because I rarely pick up light reads like that. However, the plot took forever to kick in and I felt like I was trudging through quicksand for the first 40% of the book, waiting for the story to begin. The first half felt more like a justification of Allie and Benji’s messed up relationship rather than the setup to a story (more on that later) and I got bored for about a hundred pages or so. Now, once the “plot hammer” actually drops and we’re thrust into the actual storyline, the pace picks up and Allie tries to redeem herself, which I did like. The story transforms from a dysfunctional love story to a journey of a young woman forced to deal with the consequences of her own naivete and I loved that. Who hasn’t made mistakes in the name of love? Who hasn’t fallen for the bad boy (or bad girl) and regretted it? But Allie tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life and build something with them, which I appreciated.
- Characters: Okay, so I’m going to split this one up into Allie and Benji, because they were the most memorable characters (not for entirely good reasons), and mainly due to the fact that the secondary characters were somewhat unremarkable extras in the “Allie and Benji Show.” I did like Angela, though. She was a badass.
- Allie: Allie is a kind, smart, and lovely girl. She really is. She’s drawn to Benji Zane like a moth to a flame and she knows that getting involved with this guy is a bad idea, but she does nothing to stop it. Even when he drunkenly posts a semi-naked photo of her to his thousands of followers (oh, yes, social media is the main star of this story), she just goes along with it. He’s an addict? No big deal. He’s a manipulative, selfish man-child? It’s okay, his sexy tattoos and man-bun make up for it. Allie transformed from an educated, independent woman into a doting mother figure to a broken man who doesn’t really want to be saved. She throws her money at him, her time, her life, her love, hoping it will be enough to save him from his addictions. She defends his suspicious behaviors, his mood swings, his flighty nature, and alienates both her own friends and those who are genuinely trying to warn her against him. She’s blinded by the mind-blowing sex and the allure of the rockstar chef that everyone wants to grab a selfie with, and she doesn’t accept that her precious Benji could be using her for his own gain. She’s so naive and blind that it made me hate her. Now onto the star of this shitshow, Benji Zane.
- Benji: He’s a food prodigy and an addict, who uses his fame and charm to manipulate and use those around him. He’s a special little snowflake who not only doesn’t take “no” for an answer, he doesn’t even ask the damn question. He just decides that this is what’s going to happen and you can either come along for the ride or leave, but Allie, being the besotted fangirl that she is, doesn’t leave. Despite several red flags, warnings, and glaringly obvious signs that he’s relapsed, she is in denial and he adds fuel to that fire at every turn with sex, romantic gestures, and looking sexy. Not to say that addiction is an easy thing to deal with, but as you’re reading about their whirlwind romance, you’re filled with the hope that he will turn a new leaf and live up to the romantic promises he made to Allie. But don’t get your hopes up too much, because he’s a lying, selfish, egotistical man-boy who only uses people’s goodwill and affection to get what he wants. And when the pressure gets too much? Well, bye-bye Benji. Unsurprisingly, he leaves Allie in the weeds after forcing her to cough up 30,000 dollars of her hard-earned money, because the stress of actually doing something worthwhile with his life gets to him and he literally disappears. Benji is a walking, talking piece of crap, basically. He just happens to be charming and hot.
I’m glad that Allie gets her head out of her ass and pulls her shit together after she realizes that Benji is just a manipulative jerk who used her for as long as he could before adulthood caught up with him. But it doesn’t change the fact that I had zero respect or care for either of them while I was reading this story. It was infuriating, to say the least. Paired with the way-too-millennial writing, I would give this book 2 stars. If I ever meet a Benji in real life, I’d probably grab him by his man-bun and smash his head into a wall. The themes of independence and resilience in this story were marred by the sheer naivete and immaturity of their romance and what it did to poor Allie, but at the same time, she kind of put herself in that sinking boat and was just forced to bail herself out, bucket by bucket. This reminded me of Colleen Hoover’s books, where the romantic interest is an all-around horrible person and the girl still falls for him, despite all of his awful qualities and actions. But if you like that sort of thing, then, I guess give this book a shot. The descriptions of the foods were great and made me hungry, so there’s also that. Sorry for the rant, but this book, guys, it just pissed me off half the time. As always, happy reading 🙂