From #1 New York Times bestselling author duo Erin Watt comes the addictive contemporary tale of a teen rock star in need of an image makeover and the teen girl hired to be his fake girlfriend.
Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley’s team decides it’s time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he’s settled down.
Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of “normal.” Under ordinary circumstances she’d never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn’t have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley’s team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley’s a shallow, self-centered jerk? It’s not like they’re going to fall for each other in real life…right?
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I have come to the conclusion that Erin Watt books are my guilty pleasure. I’ve read all the books in their The Royals series (well, the ones that are currently available), and could not stop until I read to the last one. They were’t the best contemporaries that I’ve read but they were addictive, and while those books were complete insanity, with drama that rivaled most soap operas and reality TV shows, “When It’s Real” felt more… well, real. (Haha) Sure, the overall plot has been done many times before: celebrity-meets-regular-person-and-they-fall-in-love, but that’s the exact reason why I had such high hopes for it! That’s one of my favorite troupes; it’s almost every fangirl’s ultimate fantasy! (I mean, if I could incorporate this into my life and somehow meet and fall in love with Ben Barnes, I’m all for it. Haha)
I adored the main female character, Vaughn Bennett, probably because I could relate to her personality so well. She has a strong sense of family and always puts their needs first, especially her younger twin brothers. Her sense of responsibility to, not only take care of her younger brothers in the absence of her parents, but also to financially help her older sister is what puts her in the whole hired-to-be-a-celebrity’s-fake-girlfriend-scheme in the first place. She also has an awful (and I’m not just saying this because I like Oakley way better. This asshole is literally the worst and probably the only thing I really hate about this book.) boyfriend who she has known for years, so she’s comfortable with him. I admire how Vaughn does not put up with Oakley “Oak” Ford’s awful attitude towards her in the beginning of their farce without dishing back some of her own, and has shown in multiple occasions that 1) she is not one of his fangirls who worships the ground he walks on and will bend to his every whim, and 2) despite the fact that she is being paid to be his fake girlfriend, she has principles and is a decent human being. (Unlike a lot of the people in Oakley’s life, unfortunately.)
One major thing that really irked me about Vaughn though, was how she seemed to have two completely different personalities when it came to her real life relationship with her boyfriend (we don’t need to remember his name, he’s not worth it – yes, I hate him that much), and her fake one with Oakley. She was a pushover and timid in her real relationship, but with Oakley she had more backbone and an attitude to match his. She called him out whenever he was being a jerk and would never let him get away with saying terrible things to her. I hated the scenes she had with her boyfriend, not just because he’s a horrible human being, but because of how Vaughn acted with him: meek and subservient. She was her genuine self with Oakley, but with her boyfriend she constantly filtered herself and held her tongue.
Oakley Ford seems like your typical spoiled, bad boy, rock star but his parts in the book that are in his point of view give his character more depth, and made him immensely more likable for me. I’ll admit, in the beginning I found him completely irritating and the epitome of spoiled teenage jerk, but as the story progressed I grew to like him more and more. Seeing how his side of fame looked – being unable to even step foot on the beach in his backyard because there would likely be paparazzi or someone would recognize him and start a mob – really made me sympathize with him and made me wonder about the lives of the celebrities I admire and idolize. Having to question the authenticity of your “friendships”, or any relationship really, seems like a lonely life.
The development of Vaughn and Oakley’s relationship from barely tolerating each other, to tentative friends, then to real boyfriend and girlfriend was really well done, and highlighted each character’s strengths and weaknesses. Both characters complemented each other’s personalities really well and helped the other become a stronger and better version of themselves. Their romance was also really sweet and fluffy and totally had me fangirling. There is some angst but not as serious as there was in The Royals series, but that twist at the end!? Completely caught me off-guard even though I probably should have been expecting it.
The narrators did fantastic portrayals of their characters. They were expressive and had a variety of voices for the other sub-characters so I wasn’t confused at all. I really enjoyed how they narrated all the tweets from fans; it was very amusing to hear their interpretation of teenagers’ tweets. Haha
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed “When It’s Real” and highly recommend it if you love stories with the following troupes: fake relationship turned real or rock star and normal girl meet and fall in love. (Both are a guilty pleasure of mine.) Or if you are looking for a fluffy, sweet romance with a little bit of spice (meaning, this is mature YA).