A lot of good and a lot of bad.
This book has a fair amount going for it. The writing is good; intelligent and cute and clear. The premise is intriguing and adorable. Both the concept and the execution of the Truth or Dare games were fantastic--it added a really wonderful dynamic to the trio's friendship, and to the story as a whole. And as for the trio itself, I was very pleasantly surprised by our protagonists's best friends. When they were first introduced, I cringed quite a bit; they seemed destined to be nothing but flat, irritating stereotypes. However, as the novel progressed, the two became shockingly three-dimensional, likable characters--more likable than the protagonist herself. Also, I really enjoyed the strong presence of family in this novel, even if Ella's relatives occasionally bordered on stereotypical.
And, since this is a romance at heart, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the love interest himself. I expected Alex Bainbridge to be the typical rich, hot jackass, so I was again pleasantly surprised when he turned into quite the likable character. While at times his behavior really irritated me, he was funny and sweet and even a bit nerdy, and I grew quite fond of him.
Sadly, that's where the positives stop. And sadly, my very first and biggest negative is the protagonist herself.
I did not like Ella. I did not connect with Ella. I did not sympathize with Ella. And that made this novel significantly harder to enjoy. There were a few occasions where she acted admirably, or said something witty, and I would smile and nod and think, perhaps there is some hope! But then she'd go back to being shy and self-deprecating and creepy, and the positive feelings would all bleed away.
Ella brings nothing new to the table, not even her disturbing obsession with a dead guy named Edward--it's all been done before! She's quiet, awkward, self-conscious, constantly belittling herself, constantly wondering oh-why-oh-why could someone like him ever want someone like me. And worst of all, she's obsessed with an artist that died over a century before. When I say obsessed, I don't mean she really loves his artwork and is fascinated by his life story. I mean she imagines that she holds conversations with him, and even thinks of him in a romantic light.
I think that was supposed to be cool and quirky, but it just creeped me the fuck out.
And that sort of leads into my other major problem with this novel: we were supposed to think she was the absolute coolest. We were supposed to think that /quirky/ Ella and her friends are just the absolute best and all these hot, bitchy, completely one-dimensional popular kids are the worst thing to ever grace this earth. I mean, G-d forbid you actually give the popular people . . . personality. Or . . . complexity. What kind of book would that be? Clearly, popular people are only popular because of their money and sense of fashion. Clearly, the /artsy/ and /intelligent/ and /wonderful/ people are a million times better than those who dare to care about their appearance!
Ella didn't outright think these things--because of reasons called low self-confidence! this is something I've never seen in a YA novel before!--but it was the attitude of the entire novel, that we were supposed to find Ella and her friends so superior to these poorly-characterized, stereotypical popular ilk.
My dislike for Ella and this attitude as a whole made it difficult to truly feel the romance, much as I may have liked the love interest. It's hard to root for a couple when you hate half of it, and since the romance was a rather large part of the plot, my failure to feel warm and tingly feelings put a bit of a damper on my reading experience.
Also, while this is a much more minor complaint, I think the use of French could've been handled far more skillfully; I wasn't too lost, considering that's the language I'm currently taking, but those less familiar with French might be left a wee bit confused.
Overall? It's not a horrible book. It entertained me, and even made me laugh aloud. It simply had too many distasteful aspects for me to properly enjoy it. However, I would recommend this to those looking for a fun, mindless read.