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Miranda Kenneally’s “The Pick-Up” redefines the ‘meet-cute’ for the digital age

Miranda Kenneally is no stranger to writing an endearing and easily digestible teen romance novel. With a whopping ten young adult novels in her catalog, Kenneally delivers another one with The Pick-Up; this time illustrating a familiar story of love-at-first-sight but with a spin.

Who knew a rideshare could lead to the perfect meet-cute

17-year-old Mari is on her way to Lallapalooza with her stepsister Sierra, who she’s visiting for the weekend, and unexpectedly meets what seems like the perfect boy, T.J., in their shared Uber. Mari and T.J. have an undeniable chemistry that’s felt through simple shoulder touches and shy glances from sharing the backseat. So the two decide to spend their time at the Chicago music festival together and then make plans for the rest of the weekend.

But what starts off as a quick and seemingly harmless fling instantly grows to be something more. T.J. wants to explore their relationship beyond just three days of hanging out, but Mari is fearful of commitment. A simple request from T.J. that Mari seems unwilling to oblige to takes the pair on an unexpected but much-needed journey of introspection and courage that involves standing up for oneself, chasing your dreams despite what others think, and letting your guards come down for those you care for.

The Pick-Up is described for readers aged 14 and up; though, the book seems most suitable for those ranging between the ages of 14 and 19. Mostly because the story moves rather quickly and in doing so, Mari and T.J. fall for each other perhaps unrealistically quick. Also, at times, the story and dialogue as well as the romance between Mari and T.J. can feel a bit juvenile and cliché, so the book may resonate the best with a teen audience.

That being said, I appreciate the themes demonstrated throughout the book of feeling second best or not feeling good enough, child-parent conflict, burdening expectations, and more. All of which are things many if not most adolescents can attest to navigating in their own lives.

Correspondingly, Mari and T.J. both have notable and heart-warming moments of growth — as they break through the aforementioned conflicts — both as separate characters and as a couple. Mari learns to stand up for herself and reclaim her autonomy in front of her parents, which helps her subsequently conquer her fear of trusting someone enough to (romantically) fall for them. 

T.J. learns how to be his own person, who loves hard and has passions that don’t align with his family’s expectations, without shame or guilt.

Some more complicated themes are explored in the book as well. For example, Mari’s home life looks like divorced parents and a mother who miscarried so is therefore suffering from severe mental health problems. Kenneally handles these more sensitive subjects with the care they deserve, especially emphasizing the importance for minors to be truly heard when voicing their hardships to other adults, caretakers, or parental figures.

Moreover, I felt other aspects of this coming-of-age story were also done well, such as Mari and T.J.’s shared series of firsts together: first loves, first time opening up to someone about personal insecurities and tribulations, and the first time being sexually intimate with another person.

The smut in this book is there, but it’s very minimal and still teen-appropriate. The scenes wherein Mari and T.J. are intimate with each other are sweet and highlight the importance of both physical and verbal consent, which I appreciated given the young age of our two central characters. 

Overall, I feel The Pick-Up is a satisfying summer read that explores coming-of-age, falling in love, and the importance of staying true to yourself within an easy-to-follow-along story. And despite, the shortness regarding the length of the book, Kenneally is still able to take her story and characters to surprising depth, nuance, and care.

Most notably, The Pick-Up redefines the ‘meet-cute’ for the digital age. With so many YA, rom-coms, and teen romances currently sitting on bookshelves, a modern spin on such a popular trope helps this book stand out from its peers and attract the intended youthful audience who are well versed in navigating the intersections of social media, phone apps, and romance.

So if you’re looking to indulge in a quick summer romance, The Pick-Up will do the trick. The storylines wrap up nicely and neatly. And by the end of the novel, you’ll be more than rooting for the success of Mari and T.J. as you close the book with a lingering smile on your face.

The Pick-Up comes out on September 7. Support local bookstores and pre-order it on Bookshop or on Indiebound.

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