I have a confession to make: I had never read any of Jenn Bennett’s books before picking up Serious Moonlight. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen two of her other contemporary YA novels, Alex, Approximately and Starry Eyes, in the book section of Target or shelved face out at Barnes and Noble, and a quick search on Goodreads confirms that an overwhelming number of people love her writing. It all comes down to the fact that I just have too many titles stacking up on my to-be-read list. But when I was searching for titles to review for this month and I noticed Bennett had written a third YA contemporary, I knew it had to be fate.
Serious Moonlight is the story of Birdie Lindberg, a painfully shy teen with an affinity for mystery novels. After getting a job working nights at a local hotel, she’s pushed out of her comfort zone when she discovers one of her coworkers is Daniel, a boy she had a brief tryst with weeks before. Charismatic and determined to get to know her better, Daniel offers Birdie a mystery to solve: a famous author visits the hotel every week, and no one knows why. Birdie can’t resist, but she soon realizes her relationship with Daniel might be the real mystery that needs her attention.
Everything about this book felt so cozy, from the gorgeous cover to the atmosphere of downtown Seattle—while I was reading it, I always felt like I was curled up by a window in a coffee shop on a quiet autumn day. The pacing was just right for a novel like this, especially since the main focus is on Birdie and Daniel’s complicated relationship. Their hotel mystery shenanigans are fun to follow, for sure, but the focus stays on the teens’ struggle to overcome their personal demons in order to make their relationship work. I found myself falling in love with their friendship and romance, and without giving anything away, I know other hopeless romantics will be satisfied with the conclusion of their romantic arc.
One thing I wasn’t expecting from this book was Birdie’s lingering guilt over her sexual expression. We learn early on that her single mother passed away when Birdie was 10, and until recently she’s been living under the watchful eye of her very strict grandmother. Due to this upbringing, Birdie is understandably cautious about a lot of things, and she surprises herself when she and Daniel have sex the first night they meet. Her newfound freedom frightens her, as do her grandmother’s very conservative views, and as a result she feels ashamed and embarrassed for the first half of the book about what she’s done. As someone who grew up Catholic, I definitely sympathized with Birdie’s internal struggle to follow her grandmother’s rules while also being, well, a normal teenager. She slowly learns to own her sexuality and accepts that consensual, safe sex is not a bad thing, which I was so happy to see in a YA contemporary. The fact Birdie and Daniel also communicate with each other is an important, healthy facet of their relationship, and I cannot praise Bennett enough for including that.
While the romance is adorable and definitely swoon-worthy, Bennett doesn’t shy away from tackling more serious subjects. Daniel has a very personal secret he’s keeping from Birdie—one that has taken him a while to come to terms with and still causes some friction with people he knows. Birdie’s fabulously fierce godmother, Mona, while acting as a surrogate mother and best friend, is also keeping some things about her life from her goddaughter, specifically that she’s dating an ex whom Birdie isn’t too fond of. And Birdie herself suffers from sleep troubles; her grandfather’s diagnosed narcolepsy has everyone but her worried that she’s inherited it, and her episodes of cataplexy keep happening more frequently as time goes on. There’s enough drama to balance out the fluffier happenings, giving readers a realistic story that knows when to lighten up. I can’t talk too much about the author mystery without getting into spoilers, but rest assured Bennett delivers on that front as well.
I wasn’t expecting to love Serious Moonlight quite as much as I did, and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I had reading. It’s a fun, sometimes sweet, sometimes sexy, always emotional story that readers will definitely enjoy. I’m all for books that give me a healthy dose of cute mixed in with drama, and I think I’ll be putting Bennett’s other books near the top of my TBR list. From this book alone, I know I’m going to find some amazing stories.
Serious Moonlight hit shelves on April 16, 2019.