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Book Review: The Stand-In, by Lily Chu

A look-alike for a hot Chinese actress gets to pretend to be her and fall in love with her hot co-star.

The Stand-In

Audible Originals


  • Get fired by gross, handsy boss

  • Fail to do laundry (again)

  • Be mistaken for famous Chinese actress

  • Fall headfirst into glitzy new world

Gracie Reed is doing just fine. Sure, she was fired by her overly "friendly" boss, and, yes, she still hasn’t gotten her mother into the nursing home of their dreams, but she’s healthy, she’s (somewhat) happy, and she’s (mostly) holding it all together.

But when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her, revealing Chinese cinema's golden couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, Gracie’s world is turned on its head. The famous actress has a proposition: due to their uncanny resemblance, Fangli wants Gracie to be her stand-in. The catch? Gracie will have to be escorted by Sam, the most attractive—and infuriating—man Gracie’s ever met.

If it means getting the money she needs for her mother, Gracie’s in. Soon Gracie moves into a world of luxury she never knew existed. But resisting Sam, and playing the role of an elegant movie star, proves more difficult than she ever imagined—especially when she learns the real reason Fangli so desperately needs her help. In the end, all the lists in the world won’t be able to help Gracie keep up this elaborate ruse without losing herself...and her heart.

I'm a pretty wide-ranging reader, but there are a few types of books I almost never read. Self-help, religious, chick-lit, and romance among them. I think I've read a true romance novel once in my life, and I found it boring. Besides the fact that it's pure wish fulfillment for women (which is fine, but I'm not a woman), something about the fact that it's literally a genre requirement that there be a Happy Ever After makes them seem utterly predictable and formulaic to me. You already know from the cover blurb who the couple is that's going to wind up together in the end, and that everything that happens in between will just be a series of obstacles and misunderstandings and complications before they get there.

But every now and then I like to grab something that I wouldn't normally read. And this popped up as an Audible freebie, and the plot looked mildly amusing, if reminiscent of about a dozen rom-coms. So I gave it a listen.

And it was... okay. The plot is pretty much the blurb. Gracie Reed is a mixed-race Chinese-Canadian living in Toronto, working for a creepy boss who's a cartoonishly awful sexual harasser, when a pair of Chinese movie stars pull up on the street and ask her to get in their car so they can proposition her.

No, not that kind of proposition. (Yeah, the author plays that one for a couple of laughs.) Gracie, it turns out, is a near look-alike for Wei Fangli. (The author goes to great lengths to contrive explanations for Gracie being an ordinary-looking girl who can be mistaken for a beautiful movie star.) Wei Fangli wants a little break — to avoid the media, and some of her more trying social engagements. She offers Gracie a ridiculous amount of money to be her "stand-in" for a couple of months.

Oh, and coincidentally, Gracie's cartoonish sexual harasser boss just fired her, and Gracie's mother has progressing dementia and really needs to be moved to a nicer nursing home.

The final ingredient in this romance, of course, is the male lead, who is Sam Yao, sexiest man alive, first Chinese man to win an Oscar, Wei Fangli's best friend (but absolutely not romantically interested in her), and of course he thinks this is a stupid idea and the first third of the book is him behaving exactly how you'd expect an arrogant A-list movie star forced to work with a peon to behave.

Naturally, the second third of the book is Gracie and Sam learning to like each other, Sam softening up and revealing his cuddly, goofy, squishy real self and gradually falling in love with Gracie, and Gracie trying to get Wei Fangli to seek help for her depression.

The last third of the book introduces the obligatory misunderstandings and complications, the big fight that has Sam and Gracie separating, sure they'll never see other again, and then the big improbable twist that brings everyone back together for a HEA.

So yes, it was very predictable and formulaic. Once Gracie crack's Sam's shell, he's basically perfect in every way. Wei Fangli is sweet and a plot device to deliver a "therapy and meds are your friend, kids!" message, and Gracie is both a dorky plain-Jane everywoman with every generic insecurity and hangup that her female readers will have, and someone capable of eventually launching her own business and also getting glammed up to movie star levels. Add a few musings about her status as a mixed-race Chinese, and the obligatory awful white people who make racist comments now and then, and it's the perfectly appropriate modern romance.

The Stand-In was light and entertaining and I enjoyed it, but it did not leave me with a hankering to indulge in any more stories about a plain Jane protagonist who finds her grrl!power and adorkables herself into a HEA with a super-hot, super-nice, super-rich dude.

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