When Samaya’s boyfriend, Devin, unexpectedly dumps her right before the summer holidays, her volunteer summer job is out of the question (no way is she spending two months with her ex), and she finds herself starting the school year heartbroken, lacking volunteer hours, and without the references she was counting on for her university applications. To make matters worse, her school’s anonymous gossip Instagram account has turned her and Devin’s breakup into a competition and is speculating which half of the school’s previously deemed “golden couple” will end up on top.
Determined to win the breakup, Samaya happens upon the perfect opportunity at her new volunteer placement: Daniel is a hockey player with dazzlingly good looks and a talent for baking that he puts to use on a weekly basis at the local shelter. He agrees to be Samaya’s fake boyfriend in exchange for her help with his calculus class. Things get complicated, however, when their play-acting becomes real and they discover that they have feelings for each other.
How to Win a Breakup is a delightful example of a fun, light-hearted novel that manages to tackle some serious subject matter – privilege, classism, homelessness, cyberbullying, peer pressure – without bringing the reader down. As well, it navigates friendships and self discovery in a way that will resonate with anyone who has ever been a teenager. The fake-dating trope is no less enjoyable for its familiarity, and the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse and well developed.
While Samaya makes some questionable decisions and loses sight of her goal halfway through the book, her character development is an authentic portrayal of a 17-year-old maturing. The author’s depiction of the exhaustion of peer pressure in addition to the self- and family-imposed pressures Samaya faces is realistic, as is her desire to fit in. Her love of online gaming and Daniel’s baking prowess make a cute and fun reversal of traditional gender roles, and the non-binary representation is a seamlessly natural part of the story. Heron also tackles the subject of homelessness with respect and maintains a focus on both the positive and negative aspects of the shelter system throughout the story.
This is a book with a lot of heart that will keep the reader hooked as they navigate this excellent portrayal of high school friendships and self-discovery.