Tamsen Parker’s If I Loved You Less is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma. While I love the well-written setting, the plot and characters are underwhelming and the unconvincing romance is so slow burn that it’s practically non-existent.
Theo lives in the beautiful paradise of Hanalei Bay with her overprotective father. She spends her days running her family’s surf shop, surfing, and spending time with baker Kini who runs Queen’s Sweet Shop. Theo’s life is wonderful and she’s not interested in marrying or settling down. But, she loves playing matchmaker for others. When a new friend arrives, Theo is determined to find her a perfect match. As Theo’s scheming spirals out of control, she realizes that she’s in love with Kini and may lose her to someone else.
The setting is so vivid and beautifully written. I also love the inclusion of Kini’s bakery and the delicious Hawaiian food that is mentioned throughout. I didn’t mind having to constantly Google the names of dishes and terms because I appreciate the exposure being given to indigenous Hawaiian life. I also really appreciate the diversity. Although Theo is white, Kini is native Hawaiian and Theo’s friend Laurel is of East Asian descent.
Theo is selfish and pushy. However, I didn’t hate her because she is lively and well-meaning at times. I’m disappointed that she doesn’t grow. Although there is a turnabout at the very end, it feels unnatural because she never really attempts to change. Although I do like kind Kini, I wish she was more developed. She just seems to be there to bake and give advice to Theo. Additionally, the other characters lack personality and are completely forgettable.
The book really fails to live up to its summary. It mostly focuses on heterosexual relationships and any actual romance between Kini and Theo only happens within the last few pages. But, it is a faithful retelling of Emma. However, certain outdated plot points do not translate well. This novel also doesn’t improve on aspects of the original story that didn’t work. The plot is slow and uninteresting. There are several twists that are insufficiently resolved while the underdeveloped characters often act implausibly. Theo’s friendship with her childhood friend Austin is unrealistic. Although she hasn’t seen him in decades, she is obsessed with the old-fashioned belief that they will be best friends and get together because their fathers liked the idea of them as a couple.
The romance between Kini and Theo is unconvincing. The familial nature of their relationship is constantly reiterated as Kini often acts like a mother or an older sister to Theo. Although the age gap isn’t an issue, their supposed interest in each other is puzzling because Theo is immature while Kini is wise and reserved. They have no chemistry together. Furthermore, Theo only realizes that she is in love with Kini near the bitter end of the book. Parker rushes towards a happy ending without sufficiently building a tangible romantic connection.
Moreover, while I understand that sexuality is fluid and labels can be restrictive, readers may find certain aspects of this book problematic. The way that the book handles Theo’s sexuality and her obsession with Austin as a potential future husband can be reflective of the stereotypical belief that lesbians simply haven’t found the right man yet.
I was really disappointed with If I Loved You Less. While I love the beautiful Hawaiian setting, the plot dragged and the unconvincing romance is almost blink and you’ll miss it. The book had a lot of potential but it just misses the mark.
Rebecca is a Creative Writing student and freelance proofreader. Come say hi: https://rebeccareviews.tumblr.com/