I was familiar with the couple in When in Paris... from TNM. Olivia's and Zach's personalities don't feature much in Becca and Scott's story, so I didn't know what to expect. Fortunately, Olivia and Zach and the rest of their group of friends are all solid, distinctive characters that are exposed gradually and naturally. Reading really does feel like getting to know each person, especially since the narration alternates between the two protagonists, and is in keeping with meeting new people during a freshman fall. Zach and Olivia have realistic and individual voices that really make an impression. They may be a bit more articulate and self-aware than the average college kid, but the expressions flow so well that once you start reading, it's a little shocking how quickly time goes. I hardly noticed my hour-long commutes on the train every day.
Although I like challenging characters occasionally, I think what made this book so very enjoyable was the genuine niceness/decency of the main characters (ludicrously beautiful characters, as seen on that amazingly hot cover, which incidentally captures the book perfectly with the wonder of first love). The characters you might expect with a star football player and a former child model are not what you get. Zach and Olivia are both products of their pasts and they have personalities that are in keeping with that. I love that the author doesn't just hand you some people and expect you to get them. There are reasons why Zach, Olivia, and the rest are who they are. It's beyond refreshing. They have lives and priorities outside of their beds. Of course, the romance is the primary focus of the book, but not necessarily their whole existence. I'm not sure how realistic the sexual relationship is, at least early on (the virgin-to-nympho bit was a bit eye-rolly). Also, muster some suspension of belief for Zach to be pro material and for Olivia to get the lead role as a freshman (drama majors, do not gnash your teeth). Overall, these are small quibbles. Because Olivia and Zach can easily stand on their own feet without the other, but are so incredibly sweet together, you can't help but want things to work out for these two.
What makes this New Adult novel so exceptional is that there is a struggle (with pride, jealousy, prejudices), but also a sincere desire of the wronged party to be just because that's what grown-ups do. Olivia and Zach have their issues from a quasi-shared past, rumors and misunderstandings, and life changes, any one of which might be a dealbreaker if left to fester. Problems are not limited to romantic love, either. It also comes up in making/keeping friends and dealing with difficult parents. The characters also listen to each other and think on things even if it's not evident at first. Really, it's a marvel how Kendall makes sorting out these all-too-realistic situations ring true with the characters and the story. Too many authors could learn a thing or two from Kendall. I think this is what qualifies what she does as a craft while a lot of writers are just pounding the keys and making word count.
So looking forward to April and Troy's story in a few months! In the meantime, I understand there are some historicals (personal favs) to bridge the gap until then.