Book Review: Serena Kaylor’s ‘Calculation’ proves predictable romance can be uproarious, nail-biting

Marlowe Meadows has great grades and a loving family, two best friends who understand her and all her autistic quirks, and a picture-perfect, blue-eyed, football-playing, romantic boyfriend, Josh. At least, until he breaks up with her unceremoniously at the end of junior year, sending her perfectly categorized world into a tailspin.

Serena Kaylor’s second novel, “The Calculation of You and Me,” is a phenomenal teen romance that celebrates romance itself — the concept and the genre — as Marlowe discovers what makes a healthy, happy relationship through her journey to try and win back Josh.

Realizing she’s failed to adequately show her love and appreciation for Josh — and the normalcy and popularity that dating him brought to her life — Marlowe decides to prove just how romantic she can be. And when her English teacher pairs her with a quiet, moody goth boy, Marlowe sees an opportunity.

Ash is an anomaly in their small-town Georgia high school. His emotional intelligence rivals Marlowe's calculus skills, he's well-read in romance and writes tortured, lovesick song lyrics for his band. Marlowe just needs to get him to teach her a thing or two about sweeping gestures and cute dates.

OK, we all know where this is going.

But even when things pan out as expected, it is deliciously satisfying. When they don't, it's equally delightful — and nail-biting, tear-inducing, uproarious and generally just all the feels.

“Calculation” is everything you expect from the bubble gum cover and more; alongside the unsurprising romance arc, Kaylor's characters have to learn to navigate everything from bullying to societal expectations to effective communication and relationship-building.

The novel has the sap and safe predictability of a Hallmark movie, but with the bonus ability to make you laugh out loud and cry real tears and become way more invested in the characters than any silly romance ought to make you do. Kaylor has a real knack for storytelling that left me flying through the pages, and she writes her characters with respect and thoughtfulness, no matter their sexual orientation, age, background or the way their brains function. It’s a brutally honest account of navigating a relationship, with the added layers of autism and high school and Southern niceties.

Marlowe’s endeavor is juxtaposed with the books she reads that shape her understanding of her own situation: the classics she has to read in school that seem to show conflict and dissatisfaction in love, and the romance that offers a mysteriously unattainable shining path to happy-ever-after. These allusions also make for some juicy dramatic irony.

I’ve read a lot of YA and romance, but never one so sweet, funny, and page-turning as Kaylor’s. “Calculation” gets into the flow early and becomes a rushing river that you’re only too glad to be carried along.

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