Review: Good Girl Complex by Elle Kennedy

I picked up this book on NetGalley as a way to lighten my reading and find some new romance authors.  I didn’t know anything about the book or the author, but I was intrigued by the title.  The idea of a “good girl complex” seemed like something I could understand, and I’m drawn to stories about small towns, and feeling out of place. 

Mackenzie is starting college after a gap year where she made a fortune developing an app where people tell dating horror stories.  Garnet College is in a small beach town where the uber rich clash with the lower class “townies”.  Cooper, who works local construction jobs with his uncle and brother, has a run-in with Mackenzie’s rich boyfriend Preston, and vows to get revenge by seducing Preston’s girl. 

I enjoyed this book but had mixed feelings about it.  I liked the two main characters, though I thought Cooper was more well-developed and sympathetic than Mackenzie (despite the rather ugly plot set-up).  Mackenzie had potential but was also annoying at times. There were some plot points didn’t seem like they were explored enough. I can’t tell if this is the start of a series, as Kennedy seemed to be starting a number of storylines but not finishing them. Usually a romance will clearly indicate there’s more coming, and this one does not, so my assumption is it’s a standalone. 

This book has a very strong 80s vibe, making me realize just how many 80s movies were about class warfare, romance between the (entirely white) haves and the have nots — think Outsiders, Dirty Dancing, Pretty in Pink. Think nasty blond bad guys wearing chino shorts and pink polos. And like those movies, even though Mackenzie is of course more than she seems on the surface, her rich friends and parents were mostly awful. I wish Preston’s character had been more nuanced, though that would have made the plot set-up more difficult.  

Which is the major flaw in this story, at least for me. I really liked the way Mac and Cooper’s relationship developed, and I appreciated that Mac had to struggle to fit in with his friends and gain their trust. I liked that Cooper and Mac have a hard time talking about money. I also thought the relationship between Cooper and brother Evan was interesting, though there seemed to be serious issues left unaddressed. But a romance where one character keeps an ugly secret from the other character is always problematic, because I spend the entire story knowing exactly where things are going and internally yelling, “just tell her already.” Yes, the romance formula requires a big blow up at the end, but Cooper’s secret about how he used Mackenzie could have been easily addressed early in the story. 

There were also a number of plot points that didn’t work for me, like Mac impulsively buying a hotel (because if you’re trying to show the locals you’re one of them, this is not the way to do it). And the fact that Preston and Cooper don’t run into each other more in this tiny town. I didn’t buy that Mac would know how to fix a roof in a storm. Also the “good girl complex” theme was a little misleading. Sure, Mac is used to doing what’s expected of her, but she’s clearly never tried too hard to fit that mold.

I gather from the reviews in Goodreads that many of Kennedy’s fans are disappointed in this book.  Having never read this author, I can’t speak to any of her work and I went into this with no expectations. I found it an enjoyable story in an interesting setting, and I thought some of the side characters would make interesting spinoff stories. But I’m not sure I found this relationship terribly realistic in the long term. 

Note: I received a complimentary review copy of this novel from NetGalley and publisher St. Martin’s Press. This book publishes February 1, 2022.

  2 comments for “Review: Good Girl Complex by Elle Kennedy

  1. WendyW
    January 29, 2022 at 9:56 pm

    A good honest review. I agree, I don’t like it when they keep big secrets.

    • February 1, 2022 at 8:02 am

      Thanks Wendy. It’s the thing I found most maddening about this book. But it’s funny how people love or hate particular romance tropes,

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