Some brilliant person somewhere decided to give one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Echols, the opportunity to write a series of YA books based on senior superlatives. Even if your school didn’t have these titles, you’re probably familiar with them – student-voted awards like “most likely to succeed” and “class clown” that show up in the yearbook every spring. The first of Echols’ Superlatives series, Biggest Flirts, introduces us to Tia and her best friends, Harper and Kaye, who will each be central characters in one of the series’ books.
While incredibly smart and a gifted drummer, Tia is kind of terrified of responsibility, so she runs from it. She also has several older sisters who have not set a very good example for her in terms of healthy relationships, so she eschews the idea of a boyfriend in favor of hook-ups, concluding this is the best way to keep from being hurt by a guy. Enter new student Will, a pale hockey player from Minnesota who says “oven” funny and, at least at first, seems to be looking for the same kind of hook-up as Tia. But what starts as a random hook-up turns into a much more complicated relationship as Tia begins to realize she might actually have feelings for Will.
Biggest Flirts has a bit of a different cadence to it than most YA romantic comedies. Familiar elements are there, but they are jumbled around a bit so the trajectory of the story is a little less obvious. Instead of a gradual will they/won’t they buildup to the inevitable realization that the two main characters should be together, that dynamic is established early in the book, and then readers follow along as both Tia and Will deal with their personal issues that seem to be preventing them from falling into any sort of healthy relationship, as friends or otherwise.
It’s not uncommon for Echols to write her lead characters to be a little difficult. They often clearly have issues that affect their behavior and make them frustrating and lovable all at the same time. Tia definitely makes some bad choices throughout the book, but you also see her gradually making positive changes in her life, which makes it easier to hang with her while she figures things out. I liked that, Will, a character that could have been just another generic hottie, was given some thoughtful backstory to help give him some dimension.
I also really, really appreciated how even though the Harper and Kaye storylines for the future books were set up in Biggest Flirts, their inclusion seemed really natural and integrated well with the main plot. So often in these series books where there isn’t a ton of crossover, the process of hooking the stories and characters together seems obvious and forced. It’s more subtle here, and I liked that I didn’t feel like I was being pulled out of the story for the sake of establishing a connection to future books in the series.
One thing that always stands out to me in Echols’ books is the dialogue – her characters are often smart and witty, but they still talk like real teenagers. Sure, I might shudder a little bit at seeing the word “selfie,” but I can recognize that it makes sense in context and that teen readers wouldn’t think twice about seeing it…and would probably think twice if they didn’t see words like that occasionally. There’s just enough stuff like this to keep the dialogue timely and relevant without it feeling forced. And the dialogue also really helps establish the relationships between the characters, so you can actually feel a connection between them as opposed to just being told that there is one.
For me there was also an element of nostalgia – much of Biggest Flirts takes place during marching band camp and practice, and after four years as a majorette for my high school marching band I can tell you the descriptions were totally on the nose. While I didn’t feel as strong of an immediate connection with Biggest Flirts as I have with some of Echols’ other romantic comedies (like The One That I Want or The Boys Next Door), I still thoroughly enjoyed my time reading it. It’s so refreshing any time you can read a YA book that is cute and funny but also has some depth and character development, and I really enjoyed the somewhat unique structure of the plot. If you enjoy YA romantic comedies but are game for some variety, definitely be sure to check out Biggest Flirts and keep an eye out for the rest of Echols’ Superlatives series!