SUMMARY: Charlotte “Charlie” Donovan is a bit of a perfectionist. She makes straight As, leads the school newspaper, helps run her friend’s cooking business, and loves, loves, loves Christmas. This year, Charlie has her eye on cute Teo Ortiz, a boy whose ambition matches Charlie’s own. So Charlie manipulates the newspaper staff’s Secret Santa to ensure she “picks” Teo’s name. But Charlie soon discovers she does not know Teo very well, and she has no idea what to get him. So she teams up with his annoying cousin JD to get Teo the perfect gifts and make him fall for Charlie once and for all.
REVIEW: Well, I’m sure you all read that summary and are just on pins-and-needles trying to guess what happens. Riiigghhhtt. That’s the problem with so many Christmas romances and movies. You know what’s going to happen from the first two minutes, and you are totally right. But they are Christmas books and movies, so we forgive and suck them down anyway. Am I right?
So, yes, this book is completely predictable, right from the summary. It’s cute and has funny moments and makes its readers feel good. It’s packed with Christmas fun including baking, caroling, family traditions, tree decorating, Secret Santa, and a holiday ball. Isn’t that what we want and expect from a holiday romance? How could I possibly expect more when I knew exactly what I was getting?
I will also say that I liked that main character Charlie’s best friend Morgan is Jewish, and Hanukkah traditions are mentioned many times in the story. Charlie also attends Morgan’s family Hanukkah celebrations, which do give some detail about the festivities. Three cheers for diversity, even if it isn’t the main character. Maybe next time…
I also enjoyed the ongoing feuds among some of the newspaper staff members. Charlie is a control-freak, and it’s no wonder she isn’t well-liked among some of her newspaper colleagues. As a former news editor of my high school newspaper, I do get it. The only thing I didn’t find realistic about the newspaper staff scenes is the fact that there is a “gossip columnist.” This is a school-sanctioned publication. I find it very hard to believe a “gossip columnist” is allowed or necessary. It sounds like this school endorses bullying and wants to be sued for libel.
On a tangential note…
I am going to once again renew my plea to authors and publishers to please (please!!!) look at some new tropes for holiday novels. Where is the diversity in YA holiday fiction? Where are the Jewish main characters? The Kwaanza celebrations, which I’d love to know more about? And where are the mysteries, the sci-fi, the supernatural holiday novels? It’s not enough that the novel is set in wintertime or has one tiny holiday scene. My students ask for Christmas books every year in November and December, and I have very few options, especially for those who don’t want a predictable romance.
I always tell my students that if I ever write a book, it will either be horror–truly scary horror–for middle schoolers, or it will be a YA Christmas book where romance takes a backseat to action. The running joke is that I’ll write both at once: a Christmas horror story for middle schoolers. One where a serial murderer strikes under the mistletoe. Or where a deranged North Pole elf kidnaps his brother and sister elves, leaving no one behind to make the toys. Or maybe a Secret Santa gives out candy canes dipped in antifreeze, and everyone is trying to figure out who is doing it. I know, I’m a sick individual. But seriously, where are the non-romance Christmas stories for teens?
THEMES: Secret Santa, perfectionism, Christmas
THE BOTTOM LINE: It’s cute and funny and predictable. Highly recommended for middle and high school libraries simply because it’s a Christmas novel and there just aren’t enough of those.
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it. It’s December, so of course, it’s checked out right now. With holds. It’s a great choice for sixth and seventh graders looking for a holiday romance. No major content red-flags for sixth grade readers (see below)–it’s plain cuteness.
- Overall: 4/5
- Creativity: 4/5
- Characters: 4/5
- Engrossing: 3/5
- Writing: 3/5
- Appeal to teens: 4/5
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: mild; one hell, two damns
- Sexuality: mild; peck on the cheek, one lips-kiss, some mild flirting
- Violence: mild; some minor mean-girl behavior
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; eggnog spiked with rum; main character gets accidentally drunk and friends take care of her and make sure she is safe
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