Patricia “Pepper” Evans is a senior at an elite private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, who is hyper-focused on her grades, college admissions, debate club, and captaining the girls’ swim team. In her spare time, she passionately bakes for the baking blog she runs with her older sister. She also moonlights as the sarcastically witty Twitter voice for their family-owned mega chain Big League Burger. As you can imagine, she sustains on adrenalin and very little sleep.
While she is clearly a success in NYC, home to her is not the big glittering concrete city, but rather, the open spaces of Nashville, where her dad lives, and where her now-divorced parents opened their first burger joint. In Nashville, she grew up with everyone she knew, and there was never any question of being accepted. In NYC, she struggles with Imposter Syndrome, does she fit in or doesn’t she?
Jack Campbell is in Pepper’s class and on the dive team. He is considered by all, including himself, as the laidback twin, the unguarded class-clown, who is not destined for greatness. He cares deeply for his family’s business — he works there every day and in his spare time, he is their witty Twitter tweeter. The deli, Girl Cheesing, was started by his grandparents in the East Village decades ago, and his parents assume that he will eventually take over the deli. He feels the immense burden of their assumptions.
He has a passion that he is at pains to keep secret from everyone, because he feels, to them, this would be just further evidence that he only goofs off. He loves developing software apps, and he has spent countless hours teaching himself coding. Every night, once his homework is done and his shift at the deli is done, he gets engrossed in the world of bits and bytes. His pride app is a chat app called Weazel that almost everyone in the school is on. Despite not being able to publicly claim ownership, he enjoys how much fun and sense of purpose he is bringing to his fellow schoolmates. Friendships, study groups, romances and all sorts of shenanigans are being hatched right on the app.
Then one day, Jack finds out that Big League Burger has stolen Girl Cheesing’s Grandma’s Special grilled cheese recipe and created their own sandwich with the same name. And the Twitter War Games are now open — clashing tweets, dueling pictures, sarcasm, wit and outright snark rule the day.
The added wrinkle to their connection is that unbeknownst to them, they are also chatting one-on-one on the Weazel app under assumed names. When do they find out who is who?
I like stories where the lives of the main characters intersect at various points of commonality while diverging in significant individual ways. The protagonists in Tweet Cute are teens with such integrity, pride and resourcefulness, whose successes are achieved through sheer dogged hard work. But where Pepper is determined to march on the straight and narrow, Jack is more inclined to sit back and joke around. Never mistake, they are both Ivy League material, just their approach varies.
Right from the beginning, Pepper is able to accurately distinguish between the identical twins when everyone mixes them up all the time. Jack feels so “seen,” for the first time in his life, because she notices him and interacts with him far more than his twin who is one of the popular kids in their grade. In turn, Jack’s nicknames and teasing keeps Pepper from taking herself too seriously. He also challenges her to think outside the box and be adventurous. They both feel out of place at school, and that forms an unacknowledged bond between them.
Both of them are very close to their families and care deeply for them; loyalty is bred bone-deep. They strive to match up to their parents’ expectations, but they also retain that spark of individuality where they explore what might be important to them and who they might want to be. The author does a splendid job of showing the push and pull of being a teen — seeking approval and rejecting parental guidance; thinking it can all be handled and hoping for that word of praise and recognition. What I liked about this story is that in order to become an adult, the adolescents do not have to completely break away from their known universe. Independence thus is as simple as asking for respect and consideration and some compromise.
This is a superb début book that does not read like a first novel, but rather like something from an experienced writer. Emma Lord has a talent with words and is a persuasive storyteller. She is an author to watch.