Adorable but brimming with Gen Z references...

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This was my first Ali Hazelwood book, and it was… an experience.

Let’s start with the obvious. The references.
For me, I don’t mind the occasional reference to the real world, it’s not something that bothers me a lot. But when it’s shoved into every other sentence, I go from unbothered to annoyed. BUT you do end up getting more used to it? I see reviews hating on the references way more than needed. It’s not like I absolutely despise the references enough to write a five-paragraph essay on it, I don’t think it deducts a huge amount from the book, I think people could truly enjoy reading it.
I definitely enjoyed reading, I was giggling and kicking my feet and screaming into my pillow. I’ll talk more about that in the romance section, but this was a really CUTE book.

All that being said- TikTok, AO3, OnlyFans, Timothee Chalamet, BTS, Billie Eilish, Jeff Bezos, Discord, Taylor Swift, Cole Sprouse, “Do they have a manager I can pull a Karen with?”, Jungkook, Zendaya, Harry Styles, You (the Netflix TV show), Twitter, Snapchat, Tinder, Bob Ross, Tumblr, Malala, Candy Crush, Thanos, The Hunger Games, Lilo & Stitch, Michelle Obama, Michael Phelps, Tony Stark, Christian Dior, Corpse Bride, Bruce Wayne, Paris Hilton, Dragon Age, Ed Sheeran (body pillow), and “brain massage ASMR” is a CONCERNING amount of references.
Not to mention that cursed sentence on page 181 I probably shouldn’t have updated y’all with.
It’s worth mentioning that Mallory (fmc)’s inner monologue once included the sentence “Because they’re cute AF.” Ali, I can confidently say that no one, not even Gen Z kids 😲, thinks like that.

Also, a lot of this book didn’t feel.. Original. It felt like it had been done before, like the third act break-up (misunderstanding, ofc it was) and the not-really-rivals-to-lovers. I did like the chess aspect of this. I’ve never read any books about chess competitions or anything of the sort and it’s mind-blowing to learn things like people play chess for 7 HOURS STRAIGHT (I’ve literally never done anything for 7 hours except sleep), so that was cool. I know that Ali’s only ever written STEM-themed books, so I appreciate how she stepped out of the normal for her YA debut.
The other thing is I didn’t really see the rivals aspect to this. At no point in this book did I ever feel that the two were rivals. It was obvious from the beginning there was never any animosity between the two. And that is my only complaint about their relationship!

Mallory Greenleaf is the eldest of three daughters, acting as a surrogate mother to her sisters seeing as her mother is sick and her dad is out of the picture (she has daddy issues and commitment issues). I was so mad at her sister Sabrina literally the whole book. That child is an INGRATE, my Asian ass would’ve whooped her, Mallory has more patience than me. My heart ached for Mal when I read about every single sacrifice she made to support her family just for Sabrina to whirl around and scream at her to pay her derby bills. Mallory’s love for her family is unwavering and steadfast, she is SUCH a hard worker. I admire Ali Hazelwood’s ability to create a main character that the reader can’t help but root for, laying out her inner turmoil for us to see so that we feel so much when we see her going back to chess, going back to doing what she wants to do. Mal is terribly selfless, I was happy when she was finally happy.

Nolan Sawyer is a nine-foot-tall, large-handed, grumpy, and temperamental nepo baby. I’m kidding, only half of that is true. At least, that’s what Ali Hazelwood wrote, when she decided to mention his HEIGHT and his HANDS way more than needed. The amount of times she had to reinforce how tall he was and how large his hands were like omg please stop 😭
ANYway… yessssss I DID like him. Note that I shelved this as ‘marry me’, so ofc he delivered. I loved Nolan’s sarcasm and his bluntness, how he was unafraid to say the first thing that came to mind, even during public/press interviews, it made for some very funny lines 🤭 He initially seemed closed-off and cold, but he’s a total pushover for Mallory. He falls first, he falls HARDER.
Honestly don’t even blame him bc imagine being so good at something it’s gotten boring, monotonous even, and then this mysterious girl comes along and DESTROYS you at your own game. I would be obsessed with her as well ;)

Nolan and Mallory. Ah, young love- I say that as someone who literally has no experience in the realm of dating! They’re adorable. Expect secret smiles, inside jokes, affectionate words, intimate touches, late-night talking, and all-night cuddling.

Honorable mention to Oz, who by far had the most iconic lines in this entire book. Also to Defne Bubikoglu (omg the way I actually tried to pronounce it), Mallory’s fierce manager, advisor, friend. And to Darcy, the sassiest, wittiest, funniest sister ever. I obv can’t forget Emil and Tanu, or should I say Tanil? Ali included a ship name for them because ofc she did 😃

The ending gave rom-com, I knew they would kiss and make up. I feel like I would’ve appreciated a better wrap-up? It was your usual timeskip sort of thing, which I guess I’m not mad about, but it was definitely not memorable in any way. I need an extended epilogue, give me another 60 pages, tell me more about what happened after! (spoiler) The “long hug” they gave each other after tieing 11 times and Mal winning the last game was super cute, tho, I adore them.