Touch Up Cover
Synopsis from the Creator:

Last year, twenty-three-year-old actress Dina Gilbert snagged the lead in the summer's biggest blockbuster. It wasn't easy: she's black, openly queer, and has actual curves she refuses to let people Photoshop. Now, overwhelmed by sudden fame and homesick for Georgia, she's becoming someone she doesn't recognize. Maybe that's why she's out partying her face off most nights.

Enter Colleen Thomas, an ex-model turned photo editor whose issues with her own body are only surpassed by her issues with other peoples'. Colleen knows the rules but Photoshops Dina's magazine cover anyway, incurring the wrath of Dina and her fans. And, okay, maybe that cover image was unbelievably sexy even before Colleen's alterations. So what? Dina's not fooling anyone with that girl-next-door, I-eat-Snickers-in-my-Golden-Globes-dress BS. Colleen knows a train wreck when she sees one.

Tensions rise even more when Colleen and Dina have to work together at the Rose Social Club's annual charity gala. When they realize they have something in common, no one is more surprised than they are. The sexual chemistry doesn't hurt either. Their differences could either be a source of strength--a life raft in the heaving waters of Hollywood--or the makings of a titanic crash.

Review: Touch Up, by JA Rock and Katey Hawthorne

[fa icon="calendar"] Oct 30, 2018 9:30:00 AM / by Suzanne

If I was to give you a very short review of Touch Up, it would be this: I did not enjoy reading this book. The reasons, though, are more complicated. There was a lot I should have liked, a lot that was close... but the amount of shame I felt while reading this and the dislike I had for the characters overpowered everything else.

I usually put content warnings at the end, but today I'm going to start with them as this review may be triggering.

Content Warnings: Eating disorders, body shaming, drug use, blackouts, fatphobia, online harassment

If you read the book blurb, you get a pretty strong impression that at least one of the characters is going to be a hot mess. Turns out, they both are. Dina is a starlet, sort of a Black Jennifer Lawrence. She went from an award-winning role in an indie film to a blockbuster YA trilogy, and is deemed "so relatable!" by the press. She's 23 and unprepared for the level of stardom she's achieved in a very short period of time. 

The book starts at an award show, where Dina is chatting on the red carpet about her dress and makeup and so on. She's blindsided by a question from a reporter about the cover of Aires magazine, which has been touched up (thus the title of the book) by the second heroine, Colleen. Dina has a strict no-retouching policy, but her agent has never put it in the contracts, relying instead on "gentlemen's agreements." Dina does cocaine in the bathroom and is high as a kite on stage accepting her award. Later that night, she's vomiting in an alley outside a club when Colleen goes around the back to get in. Colleen ends up holding Dina's hair as she vomits. It's gross, and it's supposed to be.

Soon, Dina tells her Twitter followers who's responsible for the retouching, since Aires refuses to apologize and Colleen is hiding behind the magazine. Predictably, her followers dox Colleen and she starts getting threatening texts and emails.

Colleen is a biracial Asian-American former model. She's battled anorexia and bulemia for over a decade and her mother is largely to blame. We get to see a couple of "lunches" at which Colleen and her mother don't eat much of anything. Food is a weapon, though, so there's one scene where Colleen orders a huge plate of ham just to force her mother to watch her eat. It's really upsetting for anyone who's dealt with disordered eating.

Much of the book is about body image, eating disorders, and fatphobia. Colleen both finds Dina attractive and thinks her images need to be retouched. She wants to have sex with her but doesn't want to ever have a body like Dina. She wants to be as confident in her own body as Dina is in hers, but she's just generally bitter about life and media.

Another theme of the book is coping with Hollywood by engaging in harmful behaviors. There's a scene where Dina wakes up, surrounded by alcohol and sex toys, and wearing nothing from the waist down. I was worried that she had been assaulted, since she has no memory of the night before. She hadn't been assaulted, but maybe she assaulted herself? I don't know how to phrase that, but it's how it felt. She relies on orgasms, drugs, and alcohol when she can't cope with stress and it was very uncomfortable to read.

As for their relationship, it's very enemies-to-lovers, but I didn't like either of the characters enough for it to work for me. I mostly wanted both of them to have a friend who could talk some sense into them, someone who could make them take better care of themselves, and they weren't that person for each other, even by the end of the book.

Dina has a big blow-up on set, hurts her costar while she's high, and then tells off her whole crew. She does apologize, but it's too little, too late. Dina also confronts Colleen about her ability to still be fatphobic while in a relationship with someone who doesn't conform to Hollywood's beauty standards, but changing the sort of ingrained biases that Colleen has takes time. If the book had taken place over the course of a year or two, with both of them going to therapy and talking things through, with sobriety and counseling and change, this might be a very different review.

In the end, I wasn't cheering for their HEA, and that's the reason I read romance.

Topics: review