By Kristy Boyce



324pp/$11.99/February 2021

Hot British Boyfriend
Cover by Jacqueline Li

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

In his 1869 book, Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain wrote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." While "prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness" are not among the faults Kristy Boyce has given Ellie Nichols in Hot British Boyfriend, Boyce does use the novel to explore how expanding her horizons can change Ellie's outlook on life.

The novel opens with Ellie working in a smoothie shop during the summer before her senior year in high school. At the time, her main traits are a relentless aversion to hard work and he desire to acquire a boyfriend, most specifically Andy Keating, one of the star athletes at her high school. When her plans fail in a spectacular manner, Ellie decides she needs to get away from her school and manages to fill a last minute void in the high school's honors study abroad program, for which she is neither qualified nor prepared. The program takes place in an English manor house near Northampton where the students from Ellie's high school take classes with college students who never seem to make an appearance in the book.

Ellie in England is essentially the same as Ellie in America. Embarrassed by her moments of viral fame on the internet, she sees every interaction through the lens of her infamy, but she is also focused like a laser beam on acquiring a boyfriend, although instead of Andy, she has now set her sights on a generic British boyfriend. While Ellie does manage to find friendships at the manor with her roommate, the ultra-studious Sage, and two of the boys from her high school, Dev and Huan, she also manages to find a hit British boyfriend the first time they venture into Northampton. Ellie meets Will and immediately begins crafting herself into what she thinks is the perfect girlfriend for him, enlisting Dev's help so she can feign an interest in cricket, all the time she hides any parts of her own personality and interests which she fears would turn Will off.

Although Ellie's single-minded focus on boys at the beginning of the novel is a little hard to take, her relationships with Sage and Dev allow her to grow. Unconcerned with classes when she arrived in England, her initial failing grades and imposter syndrome eventually cause her to reconsider how seriously to take them. Even more importantly, Sage and Dev are constantly pushing her to try harder in class, teaching her how to study, holding her hand through her classes, and defending her when one of the students says out loud about her what Ellie believes to be the until then unspoken truth.

Through it all, Ellie views Will as the perfect boyfriend and doesn't understand what he sees in her. In fact, despite the amount of time Ellie sends with Will, including meeting his family, he remains something of an enigma as seen through Ellie's eyes. Perhaps the fullest insight into Will is provided by the occasional comments made by his mate, Frank, who has struck up a relationship with Huan. However, rather than providing a fuller view of Will, Frank's comments only serve to tease the reader about his life when Ellie isn't around.

The strongest parts of the novel focus on Ellie and her American friends familiarizing themselves with the England outside the walls of their school, mostly in Northampton, but also on a day trip to London. A long weekend spent in Venice also allows them to experience a world that is wider than the one they left behind. Sage and Dev's desire to focus their touring on seeing museums and Ellie's focus on shopping helps all of the characters grow, not always easily, as they see beyond their "one little corner of the earth."

The ending of the novel is telegraphed throughout the book, but the interest is seeing how Boyce will move the characters in the necessary direction. Ellie's need to define herself by her boyfriend remains annoying even as she learns ways to express herself and is forced to confront her fear of failure, her sense of being an imposter, and her lack of desire to see anything through to its end.

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