If I Loved You Less is a lovely retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma that stays very true to the original novel. Theo is a social butterfly in Hanalei, where she runs her father’s surf shop. Upon meeting Laurel, Theo takes control of Laurel’s life by finding her jobs and attempting to matchmake Laurel with eligible men without great success. Meanwhile, her friend, Kini, watches Theo make mistakes and stumble, trying to help Theo become a better person. So, if you are unfamiliar with Emma, this is totally a slow burn friends to lovers story.
In a way, If I Loved You Less (and Emma) is less focused on the romance and more on the emotional growth of Theo. The story demands that Theo learn how to be a better friend and person before she can get the reward of romance. And she has a lot to learn, which at times makes her a toxic friend to someone like Laurel with a mix of bad advice and manipulation. When Austin (our Frank Churchill stand-in) arrives in town, he manages to bring out the worst in Theo, which brings everything to a head.
One thing to point out is that if you do not like Emma as a book or movie or miniseries, this is probably not the book for you. Theo is likable, but not an easy character; however, she is more self-aware than Austen’s Emma, which might also make If I Loved You Less not quite as funny as Emma. And just because Theo is more self-aware that doesn’t make her journey easier.
Something that might be important to some is the heat level. There is no sex in If I Loved You Less, which fits the story and the pacing. However, there is a scene later in the book, but before Theo realizes how she feels about Kini, where Theo licks a piece of biscotti off Kini’s fingers and I swear to god that might had the intensity of a sex scene. Theo does not process what she’s doing until it’s done and even then she sees it as “I’m being childish, at least Kini doesn’t mind.” And this is something that If I Loved You Less has on Emma: before Theo connects the dots, you can see the dots that lay out the origin of the romance. Theo goes to Kini when she needs advice, when she feels bad, when she needs comfort. And the way Theo hugs Kini is always just a touch too familiar, which they each process in different ways until the end of the book.
I do sort of wish the book contained Kini’s perspective. I understand why we don’t have Kini’s perspective because this is more about Theo growing up and seeing herself and her friends clearly, but I’m still greedy. Also, there’s the fact that Kini seems like a person who would be exceedingly conflicted about how she feels about Theo, and I love that sort of thing. I’m a sucker for seeing the more responsible character crumble under the knowledge that they’ve irresponsibly fallen for someone who is a bit irresponsible.
If I Loved You Less is a sweet romance (sweet as in gentle and kind, even if the no-sex usage can apply, but I dislike the use of “sweet” for romances without sex [ask me about it later]) that allows the main character to be messy and imperfect, which is what I want out of a book. And ultimately, the romance between these two very different women seems quite likely and tender.
Disclosure: LiP's blog founder/manager/whatever, Suzanne, does some part time work as an author's assistant and works with Tamsen Parker. This review, written by Margrethe with no input from Suzanne, was not edited by Suzanne, but we thought you might want to know.