Trade Me, by Courtney Milan

I have complaints about Courtney Milan's novel Trade Me, but I want to give the author props for getting one thing totally right: unlike the vast majority of “New Adult” books (and in spite of her far-fetched premise), this book actually deals with real, compelling, and young adult-specific issues.

The heroine of Trade Me is Tina Chen, a hardworking college student focused on graduating and landing a high-paying job as fast as possible, so her family can finally achieve some financial security. Tina has neither the time nor the energy to get excited about attending classes with billionaire Blake Reynolds, the golden-boy heir to a massive tech corporation, but when he makes a totally clueless (and callous) comment about poverty, she blows up at him. Much to her shock, Blake responds with a bizarre offer: he wants to trade lifestyles. For a few weeks, they'll swap cars, apartments, jobs—both getting a crash course in how the other half lives.

Trade Me is ambitious. I admired the author's discussion of wealth distribution and unequal opportunity, and her attempt to create a more nuanced hero than the standard emotionally-constipated alpha male. Unfortunately, Milan fails at one of the fundamental rules of fiction-writing: show, don't tell. Too many of this story's practical details happen “off-screen”, and it makes the swapped-lives conceit totally unsatisfying. How does Blake deal with, like, buying toilet paper? How does Tina handle the day-to-day elements of Blake's job? This is stuff I wanted to see, but Milan rarely delivers. Instead, she focuses on what Tina and Blake have in common: both feel an intense blend of anxiety and affection for their parents, and both are struggling to figure out what their family roles will be as adults. That's actually a great concept—but it has little to do with Trade Me's fish-out-of-water premise, Fifty Shades-style cover art, or designation as a sexy, saucy romance novel. I enjoyed this book anyway, but readers looking for a lighthearted good time might feel like they've been conned.
Posted by: Julianka


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