It’s almost too easy to write a vampire YA romance. Real authors tackle the hard romances, like mummies. How does a clumsy teenage girl fall for a thousands-year-old mummified but reanimated corpse? You’ll have to read Unwrap My Heart to find out.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book because I am a Meat Buddy, i.e., I have pledged a small amount of money every month to Read It and Weep, the podcast that Alex Falcone and Ezra Fox do along with Chris and Tanya Smith. And even if their podcast were not a highlight of my week, this book alone makes that pledge well worth my money.
Fox and Falcone have put their years of reading bad books and watching bad movies and TV on behalf of their listeners to good use. This book is just delightful. It walks the line between parody and an actual, heartfelt story in a way I wasn’t expecting. As with the material from which they drew inspiration (particularly Twilight), the protagonist, Sofia, is a klutzy and rather uninteresting character—but the side characters more than make up for that. Sofia’s dad is a mustache-sporting and laid-back fellow, except when it comes to the dangers of boys and salmonella. Sofia’s best friend, Duncan, is an amateur archaeologist who has already made a name for himself in the field before even graduating high school—and let’s not even mention his huge collection of cast phalluses. Hearing these characters’ backstories and seeing how they interact with Sofia is invariably hilarious.
There are so many good lines in here that if I quoted them all I’d probably be in violation of the copyright. I loved how Sofia’s dad explains why it’s always important for her to keep pepper-spray on her person: “Show me a problem that can’t be Maced, and I’ll show you a mugger with goggles”. Or, a bit earlier in the book, when he learns that a school project prevents her from going on a weekend camping trip, he says, “Ah, School Dad told you that? He’s worse than Strict Dad. Probably should listen to him”.
The thing is, these lines are meant to be funny (and they are). But exchanges like this, pervasive as they are throughout the book, also feel so real. This is how I have conversations with my friends, with my dad even. We’re funny with each other in a way that dialogue in many other YA novels (including Twilight) doesn’t capture. Maybe it should come as no surprise that a comedian like Falcone is good at coming up with one-liners. Nevertheless, it’s hard to land those lines so often, especially amid Real Talk™.
Take, for example, the exchange between Duncan and Sofia mid-way through the book. I love that Falcone gets to exorcise a long-running complaint of his on the podcast when it comes to the term “love triangle”:
“It literally never occurred to me that Princess Beige would ever be in a love triangle.”
“It’s really more like a love angle since Seth and I aren’t also dating. It’s just two lines pointing toward you.”
“That makes sense geometrically, I guess. Except Sofia’s 1st law is that no lines ever point toward me.”
“Sofia, you are so smart about everything besides judging people, and that includes yourself. You don’t have any idea how special you are.”
I love this scene, because even as Duncan is calling Sofia special because he’s trying to admit he’s in love with her (oh, it’s not a spoiler, like you didn’t guess that was coming from page 1), he’s also reinforcing the trope that Sofia is Special in that way only teenaged YA protagonists in paranormal romances can be. And, for what it’s worth, I agree with Falcone that “love triangle” is rather inaccurate.
Other things I enjoyed about Unwrap My Heart include the running gag that everyone mistakes Seth for a hipster instead of a mummy, as well as the suspiciously consistent denial that any other supernatural creatures exist. I liked that the villain was largely incompetent but that Sofia and friends had a hard time defeating him, at least at first, because they have about as much experience with fighting a supervillain bent on world domination as you might expect. Also, how everyone in Rock Ridge except Sofia seems to be part of a bird-appreciation club with weekly meetings.
Finally, let’s talk about sex. As soon as Sofia discovers Seth’s “secret” (that he is a mummy, if you haven’t already caught on), the very first thing she considers is how this will affect having sex with him. Which seems like such an honest thing for a YA protagonist to think about. Stephenie Meyer goes from skirting the issue in Twilight to having to explain it in … err … gory detail in Breaking Dawn. I love how proactive Sofia is, what with her searching the Internet for anything remotely useful. Similarly, I love the dream epilogue at the end and how it gives Sofia agency.
Reading this book is like listening to an episode of the podcast. It’s smart and funny and a relaxing escape from all the mellow-harshing reality we have going on in 2016. It takes a lot of work to write parody prose that is neither so over-the-top it implodes upon itself nor so clever it twists back on itself like an ouroboros of comedy and turns into legitimately good fiction. But you don’t have to be a Read It and Weep listener to enjoy this book or its jokes.
I’m a little disappointed that Falcone and Fox did not include a helicopter named Charlie Tango, and I can only hope they rectify that in the sequel.
Speaking of sequels, if they don’t want to do a direct sequel to Unwrap My Heart, I’d love to see their take on a time-travel story—maybe Chris would have some input on that, given the amount he and Alex have discussed time travel. Or perhaps the next Completely Legitimate Publishing novel could involve a pro wrestler turned actor turned action hero…. Or will we finally see the prose debut of Space Shark? Whatever it is, I would also love to see some LGBTQIA+ characters. Spoofing hetero YA romance is all well and good, but I know Falcone and Fox can find a way to make their parody romance more inclusive.
Whatever the next adventure is, I will be there.