Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for providing me with an eARC in exchange for my honest review!
What’s new, everyone? In the new contemporary romance (well, it’s marketed that way, although I’m classifying it as a “growmance” in which the lead’s personal growth is more relevant to the story than the romance itself) The Do-Over by debut author Sharon M. Peterson, Persephone “Perci” Mayfield is, suffice to say, putting up with plenty of crap. Her milquetoast boyfriend dumps her over the radio for a concert ticket giveaway on New Year’s Eve, working at her dad’s business is a soul-draining experience, she can’t help but feel small next to her perfect sister Phoebe (or Phee), and her mom Roberta constantly nitpicks her over her weight and pretty much everything else about Perci’s life. While lamenting the state of her life with her best friend Mathias, he encourages her to transform her life by creating a list of New Year’s anti-resolutions, such as not putting in effort to lose weight and steering clear of the desire to be her mom’s perfect daughter—all goals that are meant to help Perci focus on her inner self. As she puts this plan into effect, some unforeseen events end up unfolding over the course of the following year, including her getting wrapped up in a fake-dating scheme with Nate, the ruggedly handsome and mysterious next-door neighbor in her apartment building.
Whenever I get into new books, especially those coming from debut authors, I’m always in the position of hoping I’ll love them or at least like them. Unfortunately, I have to say that The Do-Over just isn’t my cup of tea, a huge part of which is due to the interrelationship between the book’s depiction of fatphobia and the intense hatability of Roberta’s characterization.
First off, I’ve read plenty of books that promote plus-size representation in different ways. Some star fat women whose size isn’t commented on, whose size is accepted as normal and even gorgeous in their world—one such example being the Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert. Other books star fat women whose size becomes a target on which fatphobic scumbags can hurl their spite, a route that can succeed as long as it’s handled with enough sensitivity and respect—something that Olivia Dade has accomplished with her contemporary romance novels. If a book is going to head down the Olivia Dade road, the writing for the fat character in question needs to involve enough layers that she feels like a complete person. Otherwise, her personality will come off like it’s made up of her weight and nothing else. But that’s how The Do-Over made me see Perci as it insistently shoved all her mom’s weight-related snipes in my face. Even in the beats when she’s trying to shed her doormat past and embrace the New Perci stage of her life, I found myself wishing she could be even bolder. Instead, she’s fairly passive most of the time, particularly around her overbearing mom.
And that’s where we can segue into my other major issue with The Do-Over: Roberta, who is quite possibly one of the most despicable book parents I’ve ever read about. She has repeatedly meddled in both of her daughters’ lives when it comes to their looks, their jobs, their boyfriends, etc. Roberta’s prying nature is particularly virulent when she aims it at Perci every other minute by, say, asking her if she can lose some weight by a certain date or advising her to avoid “unhealthy” food. You know that icky sensation you automatically get whenever you’re in the presence of a toxic person? That’s what I felt every time Perci had to interact with Roberta. Without getting deep into spoilers, the book doesn’t even do the justice of dealing with the ramifications of this relationship and realizing that it might be healthiest for Perci to distance herself from her horrible mom. Nope, it chooses instead to wrap things up with a Hollywood ending that encourages the reader to suddenly sympathize with Roberta and forgive her for the emotional abuse with which she’s saddled her daughters. Furthermore, the conclusion involves her interfering once more, except it has a positive effect this time. It genuinely feels like The Do-Over wants us to think it’s actually a good thing that Roberta is a busybody at heart, which adds a false layer to a narrative that’s already depicted her behavior with such heavy-handedness.
The romance between Perci and Nate isn’t all too memorable, especially since it plays second fiddle to Perci’s personal evolution, but it does have its charming moments. In addition, it’s tons of fun whenever Lilah, an adorable little girl whom we assume is Nate’s child, comes onto the page to lighten up the story with her endearing obsession over birds and whatnot.
As for the C plot that concerns Mathias carrying a torch for Phee while she’s in a serious relationship with her smarmy narcissist of a boyfriend Joel Allen (my distaste for him is almost as acute as it is for Roberta), I think it’s perfectly acceptable but nothing special. It does feel quite a bit like a friends-to-lovers romance, and while the trope can engage me if it’s deployed effectively, I find it to be thinly developed here. But I appreciate Mathias being a platonic male best friend to Perci (they’d actually tried to kiss once to see if sparks would fly, but the cringeworthy result assured them that they would never share any sort of amorous entanglement), and it’s the kind of companionship I’d like to see more of in rom-com literature.
At least we have the existence of Mimi, Perci’s lovably spunky grandma, to alleviate the situation. Strongly evocative of the equally endearing grandma Gigi from the Brown Sisters series, Mimi brings a whole lotta sunshine with her sassy wit and edgy tendencies. This is definitely made clear upon the revelation that’s made early on about her smacking her husband over the head with a cast-iron pan after finding him cheating on her with another woman. Her words of wisdom, or Mimisms (two of which are, “Know your worth. Then add tax,” and “A good friend’ll help ya bury the body. A great friend knows how much rat poison you’ll need.”), opening up each chapter only adds to her charm.
Overall, The Do-Over boasts a few bright spots, but they aren’t enough to compensate for the difficult time I had slogging through its portrayal of fatphobia and its toxic parent-child dynamic.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 35/100