The Perfect Fluffy Romance set in Toronto

In Lily Chu’s The Stand-In, Gracie Reed’s life is barely functioning when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her one day. Inside is Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, the hottest couple of the Chinese film industry. Gracie is shocked to discover her uncanny resemblance to the world-famous actress. But Fangli has a problem and wants Gracie to be her stand-in for public appearances and events.  

Gracie is wary of the opportunity, even though she could really use the money. Since she’s been fired from her job, she has no way to pay for her mother’s transfer to a new nursing home, so she’s tempted to do it. But the drawback? Working with heartthrob Sam Yao, who is annoying, judgmental, and thinks Gracie is greedy.  

But before she knows it, she’s thrust into a sparkling world of high-end restaurants, movie premieres, and designer clothes. But is this the world that Gracie wants to live in forever? 

The Stand-In is a mostly light novel, but Chu does dabble in some heavier subjects, which makes the novel a more realistic story and not entirely fluff. Gracie struggles with taking care of her mother, who has Alzheimer’s; it’s heartbreaking to see her go in and have her mother not recognize her. 

One of the highlights of the novel was reading about a protagonist with flaws and anxieties. Gracie is also open with her own depression and panic attacks as she becomes closer to Fangli, and discovers her struggles. They’re things that she had to battle in the past, after her father’s death due to cancer and her mother’s subsequent illness. All of this makes Gracie leap off the page as a three-dimensional character that felt like someone real, rather than a caricature. Also, rather than wallowing around after getting fired from her job and becoming a stand-in, Gracie works on her passion of creating a better to-do list system.  

The challenges that come with fame are also explored in the novel. As Gracie spends more and more time as Fangli, she’s shocked to discover how little freedom the international actress has, and how much of her persona is fake and has been cultivated. She begins to appreciate her own life more and more. 

People often can’t figure out Gracie, because she’s biracial, and so she is treated to a unique kind of racism. She feels she belongs in neither race, and others respond to it as well, when they discriminate against her based on her looks. Chu addresses this delicately, as we often hear of people in the story trying to place Gracie in a box, but not being able to do so. She feels neither Chinese nor Caucasian, and is stuck in a middle place that a lot of readers will relate to. 

The romance is sweet and light. It grows slowly as Sam and Gracie go from enemies to friends to lovers. Similar to Fangli, Sam is someone who appears one way to the public but is also very different on the inside. As Gracie spends more time with him, she discovers his silly quirks and what makes him so protective of Fangli, a woman that the world thinks is his lover, but is actually his best friend.  

One of the most fun parts of the novel was the fact that it took place in Toronto. It’s not often we get Canadian backdrops to romance novels, so it was cool to be able to see Gracie move through the different parts of downtown, as she went from regular Gracie Reed to Fangli’s stand-in. 

The twist that happens at the end was a little obvious, but Chu does a great job at tying things up neatly, and giving Gracie that happily ever after, one in which she follows her dreams and is able to be known as Gracie Reed, and not Fangli’s stand-in. 

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