Christina Lauren’s latest offering is a gorgeous ode to the city itself and its musical theatre industry. Some of the most lively romances I’ve ever read are set in New York Place—a city of dreams and infinite possibilities. This is a story about two people who did everything backwards on their way to falling in love—a sham marriage coming even before their first kiss—but it’s also a story about new beginnings, altruism, family, and finding love in the most unlikely of places, set against the shimmering lights of Broadway. This is the kind of book that you devour in one sitting and then go back to the beginning to make sure you haven’t missed anything, told in Christina Lauren’s confident and fascinating voice.

Holland Bakker, 25, was taken with the excellent busker and his performance from the minute she first heard the stirring tones of an acoustic guitar spilling from a crowded subway platform. Week after week, she’d pass by that station whenever she knew he’d be there, her obsession with the enigmatic musician driving her to take subway excursions she didn’t need simply to hear him play, crouched over his guitar, engrossed in his song. When one of Broadway’s most successful shows loses its lead violinist, the show’s musical director—uncle—begins Holland’s a desperate search for a replacement, Holland realizes she knows someone who would be ideal for the job.

Calvin McLoughlin, like hundreds of other underappreciated artists in New York City, has spent the last four years of his life busking on subway platforms and doing whatever odd jobs came his way in order to make a living. So when the acclaimed musical director of one of Broadway’s most well-known plays invites him to audition, the young Irishman thrills at the chance to show off his skills, despite the fact that his expired immigration status prevents him from accepting a job.

“The answer is obvious, isn’t it? Just have Holland marry the guy. They’ve been dating for months in her head, anyway. Two birds, one stone.”

Holland devises a scheme that would allow Calvin to be in the play while remaining legally in the country, and before anyone has a chance to change her mind, she marries a perfect stranger whose name she’s only known for less than a week.

“So we’d be married, and I’d get to be in the show?” he asks. “Just like that?”
“I think so. You’d have your dream, and Robert would have his new musician.”
“I’d also have a beautiful wife. What would you have? Other than a famous Broadway musician husband, that is.”
He thinks I’m beautiful? I hold his gaze from across the table, not blinking, barely breathing. “I’d get to help my uncle. I owe him so much.”

So begins a marriage of convenience between two individuals who literally know nothing about each other, learning about each other while claiming to be in love in front of the entire world. However, sometime along the way, their fictitious marriage becomes very real for them both, and a sweet romance blossoms between them, surprising everyone. But, as Calvin’s career soars, Holland realizes that she’s been on the sidelines of her own life for as long as she can remember, valuing being valuable to others over pursuing her own true passions, and as she watches the man she loves chase and fulfill his dreams, she becomes increasingly aware that she has no vision of her own future.

I have a temporary job, a temporary marriage. Will anything ever be permanent? What the hell am I going to do with my life?

When the fragile trust between them is suddenly threatened by secrets and omissions that put everything they’ve built into question, two strangers who’ve been pretending to know each other well very quickly realise that they might not know one another at all.

I wouldn’t even be in love with me. How can I believe him when he says he is?

In Holland we find a kind, selfless, endearing heroine whose struggle with self-confidence and lack of purpose we can all identify with at some point in our lives, and by remaining in her head throughout the entire story, our connection to her never wavers. That one-sided point of view, however, is also what hindered my understanding of the hero at times, his actions and motivations often difficult to grasp. Their delightful love story is compelling nonetheless, so beautifully multilayered and full of feeling, and Christina Lauren’s bouncy prose holds us captive until the very end.