Cover of Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan

About the Book

Title: Verona Comics
Published: 2020

Cover Story: Meet Cute
Drinking Buddy: Hot Chocolate
Talky Talk: Let Me Text the Ways
MPAA Rating: R (language, adult situations, self-harm)
Bonus Factors: Con, Indie
Bromance Status: Con Crush

Cover Story: Meet Cute

Another perfect cover. Jubilee and Ridley are their perfect, geeky selves (though Jubilee looks kind of like the Mona Lisa). We’ve got the comic book shop, Ridley’s skateboard, and the texting. The artist clearly actually read this book. I’m not totally in love with the title, though. But hey, it does have kind of an Empire Records vibe.

The Deal:

Jubilee is an aspiring cellist determined to get into a competitive music program. She’s a geek girl to the nth degree, working in her moms’ (that’s plural moms) comic book store when she’s not practicing. A convention veteran, she is always on the lookout for a con crush: some cute guy or girl she can get her flirt on with, and then forget about when it’s all over. But this year she runs into a guy dressed as Businessman Batman, and they start exchanging texts. She’s soon messaging this strange, charming  boy constantly, even though she doesn’t know his name or what he looks like. And back in real life, this sad sack kid named Ridley has taken to hanging around the shop. He’s obviously crushing on her. She’d tell him to buzz off, but he’s so cute and nervous and smart and awkward.

Ridley is the son of a man, who, for lack of a better term, is a mobster in the comic book world. He acquires the rights to promising businesses and titles, and then exploits the hell out of them. His business, the Geekery, is the bane of indie shops and artists across the country. Ridley is his disappointing offspring, a weird skater who can barely pass his online classes. But while helping his father and stepmother out at a con, he connects with a cute girl. He’s wearing a mask at the time, which gives him superhero courage. As it turns out, the girl is the daughter of a well-known artist who his father would certainly like to do business with. When he realizes his pathetic son has an in with her daughter Jubilee, he sends him to Verona Comics as a spy. Jubilee doesn’t recognize him, and they develop a friendship of sorts, while he’s still texting her as Batman. Too bad he can’t let her know they’re the same person, huh?

Drinking Buddy: Hot Chocolate

Two pints of beer cheersing

I really wanted to hug these two, especially Ridley. Jubilee is smart and focused, initially caring too much about her musical audition to worry about romance. But she sees how happy some of her friends are, and how well her moms get along together, that she can’t help wondering if she’ll ever find that.

Ridley, on the other hand, has been so crushed by his father and his absent mother that the self-loathing oozes from the pages. Every interaction he has with Jubilee is positive, but he’s waiting to screw everything up and sent Jubilee screaming for the hills. When he’s introduced to Jubilee’s macho, sailor-boy friend, he practically shrinks away. He can’t understand that while Jubilee’s not ready to pick out a china pattern, she genuinely does like him, and even when she realizes he’s a corporate spy, that’s surprisingly not a deal breaker.

Of course, Ridley’s home is in Seattle, not Boston. If his father realizes he’s not gathering dirt on Jubilee’s mom (or if her mom realizes that he’s a spy), then he’ll be sent back to the west coast.

MPAA Rating: R (language, adult situations, self-harm)

This was a very LGBTQ-pro book. Aside from Jubilee’s parents, both Jubilee and Ridley are more or less openly bisexual. Ridley’s parents, of course, are not okay with this, and when it was discovered he’d been having a relationship with a boy, he was sent to therapy. And not earlier, when he jumped off the roof. Obviously, he’d done that on a dare (even though he left a note).

Both Jubilee and Ridley have been hurt hard, and have just the slightest distrust of the happily ever after. Eventually Ridley will be sent back home, and Jubilee has her own musical dreams. But…it was kind of kismet, how they came into each other’s lives. Can they really walk away from something like that?

Talky Talk: Let Me Text the Ways

First of all, I am absolutely sick of male YA love interests with cute dimples. It’s getting beyond cliche here, I must have seen dimples in ten books this past year. There are other unique features you could give your romantic leads: crooked smile, mismatched eyes, missing teeth, bifurcated tongue, third nostril, etc.

Ridley, when he gets nervous, spews out a river of italicized stream-of-thought words with no spaces, which I immediately started skipping. It would have worked once or twice, but not every chapter.

Occasionally, their relationship got a little toxic, with Jubilee becoming overprotective of Ridley and inadvertently making him feel helpless, or Ridley’s panic attacks and obsession with the one successful relationship he’s ever had. But in the end, these are two kids who like each other, and most of their problems are coming from without. Together, maybe they can be the stars of their own epic story.

Bonus Factor: Con

William Shatner as Captain Kirk, looking furious

While only the first couple of chapters take place at a comic con, you can tell this is an important part of the lives of our heroes. The costuming, the gaming, the random hookups…it’s a place where geeks can truly be themselves.

Bonus Factor: Indie

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, cracking his whip.

So Verona Comics is a well-liked, independent comic book store where everyone knows your name, and where Jubilee’s mother draws her own graphic novels. Ridley’s father would love to buy them out, just like he did with the Geekery: once an independent store, now a corporate conglomerate. Ridley is supposed to feed his father inside information to help his bargaining position. And for the first time ever, his father actually shows an interest in his screw up son. If Ridley could give him a tidbit that would could help make the sale–say, for instance, that the owners’ daughter is about to audition for a highly competitive music program where Ridley’s father has a friend on the board–his father might stop thinking of him as a worthless mistake. And Jubilee would never know…

Bromance Status: Con Crush

I thought you’d be a harmless book fling, but now I’d like to see you again…or check out some of the author’s other titles.

Literary Matchmaking

Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute, by Emma Lord, also features two teens tweeting their secret crushes, unaware they know each other IRL.

Chaotic Good

Chaotic Good by Whitney Garner is another comic book store romance.

FTC full disclosure: Library book. I received neither money nor hipster coffee for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.