At first glance, The Art of Lainey seems a little contrived. When Lainey's boyfriend breaks up with her, she and her best friend scheme to win him back using strategies from The Art of War. A pretty original setup for a contemporary YA romance, but the first time one of the characters wields the advice of an ancient warlord, it stretches credulity just a bit.
And at first, I wasn't exactly enchanted. Lainey starts off as quite a spoilt and superficial character, lacking much in the way of personality or interests beyond her now-ex boyfriend and her best friend (who also happens to be Lainey's ex-boyfriend's sister). But, spoiler alert, that's precisely the point. Lainey used to think herself ugly and unpopular, until her ex-boyfriend and his sister moved to town and adopted her. Her new best friend, Kendall, shaped her into a suitably cool friend and a suitable girlfriend for her brother Jason. But with Jason dumping her and Kendall gone for the summer, Lainey doesn't have a clue how to proceed. She no longer feels like a complete, acceptable person without him, and so she has to win him back.
The bulk of the novel is then about Lainey growing past these insecurities, learning to assert herself, and realizing that she doesn't need that jerk after all.
As this is YA romance, it's also about Lainey falling for a new guy. Although the book is ostensibly about her using the Art of War to get her boyfriend back, it actually focuses on the far more familiar fluffy romance/fanfic trope of "we must pretend to be dating and totally in love because reasons." The reasons here, of course, being to make her ex-boyfriend jealous. You guys can imagine what ends up happening. But predictability isn't a bad thing if you're looking for a sweet, enjoyable summer book, and The Art of Lainey is certainly that. And although the romance is sweet, it's the female characters that really shine here. The initially hard-to-like but well-meaning Lainey, her fun, caring and all-around awesome friend Bianca, Micah's sweet younger sister and Lainey's intelligent and concerned mom all play significant roles in the story, and the resulting depiction of female friendship, of mother-daughter relationships and of the importance of acceptance and support from those close to us is fantastic to read. Lainey starts the book with a lot of flaws and insecurities, but it's not True Love that helps her to grow in the end. It's her own strength of character, and the strong female support system that helps her to realize that maybe, just maybe, she's worth something after all, with or without a boyfriend along for the ride.
A really enjoyable summer read.