When It's Real

Erin Watt
When It's Real
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Harlequin Teen
Release Date
May 2017
Young Adult Romance

Wealth, fame and a real-life romance she never expected—seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett lands it all when she agrees to become a pop star's fake girlfriend in this smart, utterly addictive novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author duo Erin Watt 
Under ordinary circumstances, Oakley Ford and Vaughn Bennett would never even cross paths. 
There's nothing ordinary about Oakley. This bad-boy pop star's got Grammy Awards, millions of fangirls and a reputation as a restless, too-charming troublemaker. But with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley needs to show the world he's settling down—and who better to help him than Vaughn, a part-time waitress trying to help her family get by? The very definition of ordinary. 
Posing as his girlfriend, Vaughn will overhaul Oakley's image from troublemaker to serious artist. In return for enough money to put her brothers through college, she can endure outlandish Hollywood parties and carefully orchestrated Twitter exchanges. She'll fool the paparazzi and the groupies. She might even start fooling herself a little. 
Because when ordinary rules no longer apply, there's no telling what your heart will do…

Book Review by BJ (reviewer)
May 29, 2017   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
65 people found the following review helpful
4 "Image Makeover" Stars!

What do you do when a teenaged popular musician is out of control and you want to reinvent his image? Why, you hire a "normal" (non-famous, wholesome) girl to pretend to be his girlfriend and help clean up his image of course! This book reminded me a lot of what it would be like if Justin Bieber's publicists decided it was time for him to pretend to clean up his image by settling down with a plain Jane fan. If you love Hollywood romances, then you definitely will not want to miss WHEN IT'S REAL.

This is a young adult romance. For those of you who are wondering the appropriate age for this read, I'd say 15+ as, although the intimate scenes are pretty clean and limited, there is one scene that gets pretty hot and heavy. Of course, as is frequently the case with YA romances these days, this book is also suitable for adult romance readers.

Oakley Ford is a teen heart throb. Born into the limelight given his two super famous movie star parents, it was a virtual certainty that he would be famous too. However, when he shows an interest for the microphone over the big screen, his self-absorbed, narcissist father pretty much abandons him. His mother too is busy with her own career, so at 16 he files for emancipation and continues pursuing his dreams. What he soon finds, however, is that most everyone wants to be part of his entourage just for the material and other things he can bring them, not because they particularly like him for who he really is. Rather than eschew these superficial friends, however, he continues with this circle not ever having known anything else and soon finds himself with a tarnished reputation for being a self-entitled party boy: an image that his publicists aren't very happy with as a large portion of his audience are young, teenaged girls.

Cue the lights for Vaughn Bennett. Vaughn is Oakley's opposite. She has had to grow up real fast after her parents passed away. Rather than rebel, however, she graduates high school a year early and decides to work to help support her household which includes twin younger brothers who are still in school. Vaughn's older sister has been shouldering most of that load but once the life insurance proceeds are all gone, they soon find themselves with a mounting load of bills. Fortunately, for Vaughn, however, her older sister (Paisley) works for the PR agency that represents Oakley and when they see her picture hanging in Paisley's cubicle they make Vaughn an offer she can't refuse. $20K a month for a whole year just to pretend to be Oakley's "wholesome" girlfriend. She doesn't even have to give up her relationship with her existing "boyfriend."

However, what Vaughn never could have imagined is her intense dislike of Oakley's "conceited" attitude which sparks heated interactions between the two when Vaughn chooses not to hold back what she really things of Oakley's super star antics. Interestingly Vaughn has a different effect on Oakley–she's like a breath of fresh air for him as no one ever really calls him out on his behavior or is truly honest around him. Moreover, she's not constantly searching for ways to leverage her relationship with him. Instead, for the most part, she seems perfectly content just doing her "job" and not trying to spend any extra time with him. This intrigues Oakley and after a while he is dropping his super star persona and letting Vaughn see the real him which starts stirring all types of feelings. Can a relationship that started out as a fake ever become the "real" thing?

I was initially surprised at how negative Vaughn was on Oakley. Given her desperate need to help her family, I would have thought she may have tempered her interactions with him more. Then again, it's these fiery interchanges that spark the interest between them, so in the end they are essential to the plot.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this story is that everything is not always what it seems. While super stars lives seem glamorous their status affects their lives in ways that we as "normal" people don't always appreciate. Social media, in particular, has now magnified this effect a hundredfold. WHEN IT'S REAL does a good job of highlighting these obstacles and how sometimes these adversities can lead to "acting" out.

In the end, we all just want to find that special someone who loves us for who we really are, and I really enjoyed how WHEN IT'S REAL leaves you with this valuable and important message which applies equally to super stars and everyone else.
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Book Review by Pip (reviewer)
May 31, 2017
46 people found the following review helpful
'When it's Real' is an undoubtedly fun read and an absolute guilty pleasure...and I was entertained throughout, which is more than I can say for many books these days. But re-tune your inner voices for teenage drama and high-school antics because it's a NA/YA book with teenage characters who well, behave in a way you completely expect them to.

I read this in one sitting because I did like the voices of both Vaughan and Oakley and it was interesting to see how Oakley became more and more likeable while the initially-grounded Vaughan became a little stupid in the middle.

There are also, so many echoes of the cynical world of showbiz written into this and I couldn't help but grin wryly at the not-quite-blatant references to the type of tabloid headlines and social media feeds that construct a world that as fake or as real as you want it to be. The oblique pokes at how certain music celebrities (and their fans) behave these days is as obvious as daylight too, which thoroughly delighted me as I saw these parodied so well here.

'When it's real' ends with the same euphoric high of the ending notes of the concert, which is mostly HFN bliss for the newly-minted couple in question, but in the fickle world of celebrity-happiness and coupledom, it's probably for the best.
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May 22, 2018 09:58 AM ( EST )