Although not strictly speaking a romance by one definition of the genre (see the penultimate paragraph of my review for a minor spoiler as to why), Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell has many of the satisfying hallmarks of romance. The eponymous character is a seventeen-year-old boy with a serious crush on his online gaming buddy. When they get a chance to meet offline—but his buddy doesn’t know it—Noah takes it upon himself to launch an epic plan to win this guy’s love. It gets steamy, it gets hot-and-heavy, it gets recriminatory—everything you might want in terms of drama from a romance. Thank you to NetGalley and Page Street Publishing for the eARC in exchange for a review.
The characters feel really age appropriate in how Madden portrays them, especially in the obvious mistakes they make. You know what I mean: things that we might roll our eyes at, knowing better both as older readers and as members of the audience rather than participants in the story. For example, Noah gets bullied at his private school, but he refuses to tell his vice principal who’s bullying him for fear of greater reprisals. It’s also obvious that lying to Eli isn’t a great idea, or that going to the gym with Alex is going to cause problems—but these things aren’t obvious to Noah, who is in the middle of the story and who is a seventeen-year-old boy hopped up on hormones. Madden has a talent for walking that line between “makes sense for a teenager” and “well that was just for the sake of plot” in a way that errs on the side of the former, keeping the story interesting without veering into the unbelievable territory.
It also helps that many of the antagonistic characters have good reasons (from their perspective) for not liking Noah, who himself is quite flawed. The way that Madden takes time to flesh out these other characters and explore their motivations, whether it’s through conversations overheard or heart-to-hearts with Noah, balances the overt melodrama of his relationship with them.
There were a few characters or situations where I felt like this didn’t hold true. Noah’s dad is basically a cipher for the entire book: he exists and is a stereotypical mostly absent father figure, and I wish Madden had explored that more thoroughly. Similarly, some of the secrets—what’s going on with Noah’s mom, the big event that broke up Noah and his former best friend, etc.—are not all that surprising when finally revealed. Finally, Noah’s sister, Charly, has some of her own shit going on, which I appreciate—but she largely exists to be a voice in Noah’s head, via text message.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell is very dramatic in a way that you might expect for a novel involving a lot of theatre people. Its main character is flawed in a sympathetic way and makes a lot of mistakes. I know that some people will decry this book being marketed as a romance because it lacks a Happily Ever After (HEA). That’s totally valid—I shelved it as romance because, for me, that label describes what’s happening in the book rather than the actual romance genre, but I wanted to be clear in my review for anyone reading this who needs a heads up. I think the ending is realistic and appropriate given the mistakes Noah makes in this book, and there is hope for a happy ending in the future, but frankly if Eli had ended up forgiving Noah so quickly, I would have been a lot more frustrated. So blame the publisher, not the author, for the classification here: as long as you know not to expect an HEA, I think you could still enjoy the romantic aspects of this book.
So I will recommend Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell if you want a reasonably dramatic portrayal of a m/m YA love story. The pacing is good, the characters are mostly well drawn and interesting, and the plot takes appropriate twists and turns to hold your interest.