Talented teen Los Angelenos recall their toxic romance in this angst-y breakup story.
Aspiring high school artist Natalie and filmmaker Dan (both white) are over when the story starts, but through a series of letters, Nat reminds Dan of all the ways (or at least the titular 16) he broke her heart. At their first meet-cute in a coffee shop, 17 months earlier, Nat and Dan instantly connect. Their witty banter and palpable chemistry seem to mark the start of an epic romance, but Nat’s wealth, art-world connections (her mom is a “semi-famous painter”), ambition, and undeniable genius intimidate “Public School Boyfriend” Dan. “Sexy, scary, manic, messy” Nat, meanwhile, grows jealous of Dan’s obviously devoted mixed-race best friend, Ruby, and his text flirtations with gorgeous, white classmate Arielle. The chapters switch points of view and timelines, with text transcripts between various characters interspersed. Nat’s letters flash back to such relationship milestones as her first kiss with Dan, their first time in bed, first fight, first “hate-fuck,” etc. After reading each letter, Dan offers reflections (or refutations) in the present, the juxtapositions revealing both to be unreliable narrators. Readers may have to reread a chapter’s time stamp to keep up, and it’s occasionally tedious to revisit the same moment again and again. A frustratingly abrupt denouement won’t satisfy readers hoping for a cathartic redemption.
A well-written but melodramatic he-said, she-said epistolary retrospective of an unhealthy relationship. (Fiction. 14-18)