Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Published July 7, 2020
More or less summed up as the fake dating trope by way of Bridget Jones’ Diary, Boyfriend Material is an entertaining and highly readable m/m rom-com destined to charm much of its audience. It didn’t quite work for me; I found the stakes too low, the resolution too abrupt and the tone too whimsical for this to become a new favourite of mine, but take my words with a grain of salt since its 4.13 rating on goodreads and glowing reviews say I’m in the minority here.
With his has-been rock star father back in the public eye on a new reality TV show and the niche charity he works at bleeding donors, Luc’s job is on the line unless he brings a respectable date to the annual charity event. Enter vegetarian barrister Oliver Blackwood. Although Luc and Oliver have almost nothing in common, they mutually agree to fake-date in order to rehabilitate Luc’s image. Naturally, real feelings ensue.
I genuinely liked Luc, our self-deprecating, self-destructive, son of a rock star narrator. He grows so much over the course of this book, maturing and facing his insecurities head on in a way that I found inspiring. Oliver is initially a more opaque character, but he’s revealed to us slowly as Luc peels back the layers on this man who’s not-so-perfect after all. Their relationship is similarly well-developed. Each character is realistically flawed (and honestly probably needs to see a therapist) but they complement each other as a couple and are stronger together. Those looking for something hot might want to look elsewhere though, because Boyfriend Material is more of a fade-to-black romance that deals in emotional intimacy rather than explicit sex scenes.
For all that I liked the characters separately and together they just didn’t elicit the strong “I ship this” response that I expect from a great romance. I didn’t need to put the book down for a moment if Luc and Oliver had an intense emotional moment or squeal at their inevitable reconciliation. Ultimately I was happy for Luc and Oliver but I wouldn’t be distraught if it didn’t work out.
Perhaps my lack of connection is because the pacing is off. Although it’s a quick-paced read and remains entertaining throughout, Boyfriend Material spends so much time in the nebulous fake-dating stage that it has to rush to wrap things up in the last few pages. The result is an abrupt ending, softened only by news of its impending sequel.
I can’t emphasize enough how much this is a matter of personal preference, but I found Boyfriend Material to be too low stakes to draw me in. Luc may, or may not, lose his job if he doesn’t bring a “good gay” as his date to “The Beetle Drive” (the name of his dung beetle charity’s annual fundraising gala) but there are no countries, kingdoms, or even friendships hanging in the balance and it’s never quite clear if there will be any lasting consequences if the relationship doesn’t work out.
I was also put off by how quirky this book tries to be. Recurring gags include the co-worker who doesn’t understand jokes, the dung beetle charitable organization, and the James Royce-Royces (Luc’s friends with the exact same name, who got married, and decided to hyphenate). The secondary characters are largely supportive, but they’re also thinly sketched and mainly there for comic relief. It’s all very wacky, but the tone can be discordant between these moments of forced levity and the serious self-esteem, abandonment, and parental issues Luc and Oliver face together.
I really hoped this would be a five-star read for me and instead it’s more of a 3.75 that has me waffling over whether to round up or down. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Will I read the 2022 sequel Husband Material? Probably, at some point. Will I re-read Boyfriend Material one day? I doubt it.
TL;DR: Fake dating by way of Bridget Jones’ Diary. If you like your rom-coms heavy on the comedy, pick this one up.