Portrait of Us

portrait-of-us-9781481451901_hrTitle: Portrait of Us
Author: A. Destiny & Rhonda Helms
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, YA
Rating: ★★★★☆ | 4.0 out of 5.0

In these last few days of summer, I’ve been feeling especially compelled to read light, fluffy romance novels. This is in part summer nostalgia but also, and I think this might be the larger part, because light fluffy romances are always good for getting me through a reading slump. I’m still not out of the forest, but I can see the edge of the trees.

This novel was given to me by a friend who assured me that it was cute, almost tooth-achingly so, and that it was, but what really caught my eye was the description: [Corinne’s] dreams become muddled when she finds out she has to work with Matthew––the arrogant, annoying jock whose postmodern style seriously clashes with her classic aesthetic. Hi. Yes. Sign me the fuck up, please, this is the stuff I eat for breakfast.

And okay, admittedly (please forgive my pedantry), my art student heart curdled every time the authors divided art up into the “classic” and the “postmodern” (words! have! meanings! and what you’re looking for are the words “representational” and “non-representational,” because postmodernism is a specific avant-garde rejection of modernist art and there is no such thing as ‘classical art’ unless you’re speaking of Greek art produced during the Classical period).

But I think the most important thing was that you got what they meant, and it’s pretty obvious what they meant. Corinne is all technique and realism; she is unable to think outside the box and has a hard time just letting herself feel, while Matthew is experimental and emotional. So that wasn’t a big deal unless you’re a pretentious art douche like I am, and even I swallowed my annoyance.

Because this novel was so adorable. Yes, there were some cringe-y bits, but my overall impression of the novel is that it’s like orange candy. It cleanses the palate and makes you feel refreshed, even would the light flavour lingers on your tongue so you can savour it. I really enjoyed the dynamic between Matthew and Corinne, and I enjoyed the strong relationship between Corinne and her parents, and the way they learn how to let her become her own person.

I also frankly enjoyed the fact that it was pretty obvious throughout the novel that Matthew has a massive crush on Corinne––I really don’t like novels where it seems like the attraction seems all one-sided until the Big Reveal at the very very end–ah! So he did like you all along you silly goose! It just seems so trite and contrived, and this wasn’t.

I mean, don’t expect plot twists or Fresh New Ideas out of this because this is essentially a regurgitated cliche and you know almost every plot point before it even happens, but there is a value to that, a comfort in that that is overlooked and undersold.

There were a few things I didn’t absolutely love, though. Corinne’s skin is frequently described as ‘cocoa’ (can we as a species stop doing this), which was uncool, while Matthew is positioned as the Good White Boy who “hates racism” (congrats…? shouldn’t we all…?), which was the teensiest bit obnoxious. The development of Corinne and Matthew’s characters also very extremely uneven––the entire novel focuses on how Corinne has changed through her friendship and romance with Matthew, but Matthew himself is a stagnant figure, and kind of bland. Corinne’s friends seem to exist only to give her boy advice, and she is completely surrounded by white people. Literally not one other person who is of colour (unless you count Matthew’s meathead Asian friend, but I don’t because he literally exists for the space of a single sentence). Just a whitebread world, and Corinne and her family plopped down in the middle of it.

Overall, nothing unexpected from this novel. It was cute, it was charming, and it wasn’t perfect, but that’s also pretty much what I was looking for.

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