Warning: If you’re at all sensitive to reading on-page depictions of major depressive episodes and/or severe anxiety/panic attacks, please use caution when reading this book.
Oh boy. Where to start with this review… I started The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun at the beginning of March thinking it would be a semi-lighthearted read with a bit of mental health and good asexual rep. Little did I know this book would make me feel a whole lot of things I didn’t expect to feel.
Yes, this book is cute as hell, but it also covers a lot of deep topics like Dev’s deep depression, Charlie’s anxiety disorder and OCD, discovering yourself, and learning to accept the love you deserve. This book gave me a lot of anxiety because it hits on a lot of insecurities I have and a lot of issues I’ve had in the past with relationships (both platonic and romantic). I am elated this book exists, but damn. It makes me feel shit. If you are at all bothered by descriptions of depressive episodes, OCD spirals, and/or anxiety attacks I would strongly use caution if you plan to read this one. My anxiety was triggered a few times while reading. I also want to mention that, while there is sexual content, it’s not super descriptive like a lot of other romances I’ve read.
Things I absolutely loved:
1. Charlie Winshaw. From the moment he stepped on the page I knew I was going to love him. He’s an absolute wreck and I love him so much. Seeing his journey of self-discovery as a queer man and opening up to someone for the first time that isn’t Parisa, his publicist/best friend.
2. Dev Deshpande. Even though a lot of his struggles hit way too close, I’m glad to have a character I can relate to via those struggles. To know that I can work through them and end up okay. I just have to put in the work.
3. Literally all of the side characters. This book has such a queer cast and I love it! I’ve never read a book with so many ace characters in so many forms. It was really affirming. All of the characters are funny, smart, and have absolutely great chemistry with each other. And the banter! I’m a sucker for fantastic banter and boy does this book have it.
Things I didn’t love:
1. All of the mentions of Charlie’s “giant hands.” I don’t know why it bothered me so much. It’s such a small thing, but every time it was mentioned I’d get quite irritated. Aside from fan art, I couldn’t get a good mental picture of what Charlie (or Dev, for that matter) really looked like. I knew Dev was taller than Charlie and Charlie was muscular, but other than that I couldn’t quite picture anything. *shrug*
2. Maureen Scott. I absolutely hate her. It wasn’t confirmed until around the middle to last fourth of the book, but gods I hate her stinking guts!
I’ve never been a fan of the Bachelor or the Bachelorette, but I quite enjoyed getting to see behind the curtain of Ever After, the show modeled after both these reality shows. It shows just how toxic the environment can be and how heteronormative the whole process is. (Which, let’s be real, is a huge reason why I’ve never been a fan. Even at a young age before I knew I was queer and a sex-repulsed ace.) It was interesting to see how Charlie was in front of the camera with the women he was supposed to be courting and how he was with Dev when the cameras were off. I loved getting to see him grow with Dev’s coaching. While I don’t want to get into too many details about my own issues that this book brought to the forefront of my mind while reading, I can absolutely guarantee The Charm Offensive will live rent free in my head for a really long time. I don’t think I’ve tabbed or annotated a book quite as heavily as I did with this one. And that’s saying something because I am a liberal tabber. Seeing the way that Charlie was celebrated for differences he was told his whole life were “quirks” and made him inadequate was so beyond anything I could have asked for.
I haven’t really been adding ratings to my reviews this year outside of StoryGraph because I don’t think they’re necessary, but give this book all the dang stars. It deserves them. It made me emotional on more that one occasion: for having characters I could see myself in, for the aspec/queer rep, for showing that letting people be with us in our darkest and messiest moments is okay and that we deserve love even when we’re in those moments, and for showing that no matter what, it’s never too late to find out who you are and to find the kind of love you want. Whether it’s romantic or platonic, everyone deserves love regardless of their romantic/sexual orientation.
I hope to maybe see a second book set in this world featuring Daphne, the next chosen princess.
Graphic: anxiety, OCD, depression, homophobia, misogyny, grief
Moderate: sexual content (not super descriptive), language, germophobia, toxic work environment, acephobia/arophobia, biphobia, blood, injury, bullying
Minor: vomit, violence