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Book review: A rom-com with some refreshing twists

"Written in the Stars" by Alexandria Bellefleur (Avon)
By Ellen Morton Special to the Washington Post

The manifold reboots of “Pride and Prejudice” practically require their own bookstore section these days, so when you pick up a rom-com with lead characters named Darcy and Elle, you might think you know what you’re in for in this book. But Alexandria Bellefleur’s queer romance “Written in the Stars” gives its inspo a mere wink before unfolding into a distinctly modern frolic, charming and effervescent and entirely itself.

Ever hopeful, astrologist Elle heads to a blind date, feeling the anticipation “like glitter rushing through her veins.” Darcy, an actuary and the reserved sister of Elle’s business partner, is decidedly less excited. After an awkward conversation and a sad quantity of spilled wine, Darcy and Elle are both happy to go home alone and never meet again. Each feels a sexy spark, but Elle doesn’t care to break through Darcy’s condescension, and Darcy won’t risk her heart on anyone, let alone a starry-eyed charlatan.

But Darcy wants a break from her brother Brendon’s relentless setups, so she lies and tells him they hit it off. Brendon loses no time in congratulating Elle on her new love connection, forcing Elle back to Darcy for answers. Darcy proposes they pretend to date for a few months, which would benefit them both: Darcy will get Brendon off her back, and Elle will show her disapproving family she can attract a stable, responsible adult. “This sounds like a supremely stupid plan. Like, awful,” Elle tells her. And Darcy admits, “That’s a fair point.”

This is a dyed-in-the-wool rom-com filled with familiar tropes. Opposites attract, they embark on a fake relationship, they suffer misunderstandings and unfortunate overhears. What makes “Written in the Stars” so refreshing is that it doesn’t rely on flimsy constructs. Elle and Darcy confront conflicts with frank and realized points-of-view. When their attraction outpaces their resistance to each other, they don’t bumble forward and hope for the best. They admit their feelings and decide together to abandon their plan.

From Page 1, when Elle suffers the indignities of “brand-spankin’-new underwear” that make her feel like a “bear in the woods with an insidious itch,” Elle and Darcy are as recognizable and entertaining as your best friends from college. Their first impressions are a credible mismatch, but over time they fit together more and more surely. Elle laughs at Darcy’s dirty jokes and draws out the quirks Darcy usually keeps to herself. Darcy unearths the layers beneath Elle’s enthusiasm for astrology and appreciates her sense of fun and search for connection. Their romance builds naturally and capitalizes on the physical allure they felt all along.

Later, when things inevitably fall apart (did I mention this is a dyed-in-the-wool rom-com?), it’s because their struggle is emotional and character-based rather than convenient and easily solved. Elle and Darcy have to reach past superficial hurts and work hard to overcome the real discord between them. The ending they find together feels hopeful, happy and written in the … well, you know.

Morton is a writer in Los Angeles.

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