Trade Me by Courtney Milan
by Kiersten Hallie Krum
Look, I’m going to get this review very, very wrong. This is solely due to my own inadequacies because there’s no way, absolutely no way, I can do proper justice to Trade Me.
Trade Me is, in a word, fearless.
But first, a blurb:
Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Systems. But when he makes an offhand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.
To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.
But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.
Tina is struggling to put herself through college on a nearly non-existent budget. She deeply loves and resents her family to whom she sends all the money she can spare and sometimes money she can’t. She lives in a converted garage that isn’t really so converted. And she has plans. Plans that don’t include falling for a privilege son of a Silicon Valley wunderkind.
“Money may not buy love, but it buys something like it. Not having any money makes love complicated…I don’t want a lot out of life. I just want enough money to love without being tangled up about it.”
Blake’s entire life has been mapped out as part of the story of his father’s business. Recent events have shaken his personal life up but good, so much so that he’s decamped from his privileged life to go to college and figure out how to deal with the fact that he no longer fits that story.
“If I run hard enough, I tell myself, maybe one day I can run myself into someone else. Deep down, I know it doesn’t matter how fast I run. Deep down, I know I have to get out. But I don’t know which direction is out any longer. I wish I could outrun myself. I wish I could trade this stupid problem for anything else.”
Blake notices Tina months before they’re brought together in a class discussion of poverty, where Tina expertly puts Blake in his place. When she accuses him of not being able to live her life for a day, he gets the idea to trade lives for the rest of the semester. After a lot of negotiating, including that Tina will pretend to be Blake’s girlfriend for the sake of his father, Tina agrees but she makes it clear from the get out that this will not end in a relationship. When the semester ends, they go their separate ways. For Tina, falling for Blake is a risk she can’t take. She clearly sees the fantasy he could give her, a fantasy she’s self-aware enough to know she desires, but she believes the fallout would break her.
Trade Me takes an unflinching look at money and how it can affect a relationship. It pulls no punches without demonizing wealth or the wealthy nor does it shame or pity the poor. It also examines how we relate to our parents and what happens when the child becomes the parent, even if temporarily, and how that shift can negatively warp our perspective. Tina and Blake are wonderfully complex characters who build a responsible relationship, one that values both their agencies. They’re very into each other and when their relationship becomes physical, it’s incredibly sexy. I was deeply moved by this book. At times, it struck far too close to home for comfort. It’s brilliantly constructed and rolls seamlessly between the two points-of-view. Trade Me is raw and real. It’s sweet and funny. It’s poignant and painful. It is not to be missed.
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