After losing spectacularly to her ex-girlfriend in their first game since their break up, Scottie Zajac gets into a fender bender with the worst possible person: her nemesis, the incredibly beautiful and incredibly mean Irene Abraham. Things only get worse when their nosey, do-gooder moms get involved and the girls are forced to carpool together until Irene’s car gets out of the shop.
Their bumpy start only gets bumpier the more time they spend together. But when an opportunity presents itself for Scottie to get back at her toxic ex (and climb her school’s social ladder at the same time), she bribes Irene into playing along. Hijinks, heartbreak, and gay fake-dating scheme for the ages.
She Drives Me Crazy opens with our protagonist Scottie Zajac having a rough go of it. She is a basketball player for her high school in her small town of Grandma Earl, Georgia and has played a terrible game against her ex-girlfriend Tally, who she still loves, and who has transferred schools to rival Candlewick. Then, amidst her distress, she is involved in a car accident in the parking lot and the other party is her sworn enemy, beautiful and popular Irene, who once played a mean prank on her at a party.
You know, I have never been a fan of hate-to-love relationships, mostly because I am a big ol’ cinnamon roll and when I dislike someone they just make me cry and that’s the end of the story, but I think She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen may just have made me a hate-to-love convert. Kelly Quindlen very strategically formulates this fake dating/hate-to-love relationship by having Irene’s and Scottie’s moms forcing them to carpool to and from school due to their cars being out of commission. I do love an adoringly clueless but well-meaning pair of meddling moms.
Irene’s character construct as a lesbian, Indian-American teen girl who excels at cheerleading is complex and nuanced. She talks about the layered challenges she faces in the intersection of these identities, and how they have led her to act certain ways and conceal certain identities in various communities due to stigma and prejudice. The way she is perceived by each individual character, culminating in Scottie’s perception of the prank that began their animosity, contributes to how she chooses to present herself, and I grew to love, value, and admire Irene. She genuinely loves cheer, and fights to be seen as a “real” athlete by her family, her peers, and school admin.
What really sealed the deal for me in my appreciation of this book was how Kelly Quindlen dealt with the true grief that comes with a first heartbreak. There is this process of giving one’s whole self and loving in a boundless way that comes with a first love relationship, and Tally was that for Scottie. The loss that Scottie grieved was not only the presence of Tally herself, but the intensity of her feelings, the sincerity of her love, and the ultimate loss of herself. It’s like when people say when a person’s heart breaks for the first time and they put it back together, it can ultimately be whole and heal again, but it will never quite be the same as its first iteration. I appreciate how the author did not discount or diminish how much this meant to Scottie and how finding herself again was the most difficult and time-consuming process.
One part of the plot addresses coming out in high school. There are a few characters who have chosen to, or to not, come out, and I am glad that Kelly Quindlen incorporated a variety of experiences instead of focusing on one coming out narrative. This is where the small-town culture and feel stands out, and I think these characters’ experiences may have been different had this book taken place in a less tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone else and reputation is on the line and in the forefront of people’s minds.
My one small critique is that there is a Harry Potter reference which, in my opinion, would have been pretty easy to remove. The comparison was between Scottie’s red hair and Ginny Weasley, and there are plenty of other non-Harry Potter red haired women to reference out there, especially since this book ultimately is a slightly cheesy sapphic romance chock full of many favorite tropes, we want to make sure that every aspect celebrates queerness, and that includes not involving JK Rowling.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Scottie and Irene were wonderfully complex main characters and love interests. I so appreciated how Kelly Quindlen addressed lingering feelings after a breakup with the depth that Scottie deserved. She wove an intricate narrative through a breakup and forming a new relationship in 288 pages, and I always marvel at authors who really make us feel like we know their characters personally when we only spend under 300 pages with them. I wish I had more time with them!
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: Scottie, fresh out of a breakup with her ex-girlfriend Tally, is a high school basketball player who enters a hate-to-love and fake dating relationship with cheer captain Irene.
Genre: YA F/F Contemporary Romance
Trigger/content warning: Homophobia (framed in a negative light)