Bottom Line: Catherine McKenzie continues to delight with her charming and quirky characters, strong friendships, and unique and realistic storylines.
“Anne Blythe has a great life: a good job, close friends, and a potential book deal for her first novel. When it comes to finding someone to share her life with, however, she just can’t seem to get it right. When her latest relationship implodes, and her best friend announces she’s engaged, Anne impulsively calls what she thinks is a dating service—only to discover that it’s actually an exclusive, and pricey, arranged marriage service. Anne initially rejects the idea, but the more she learns about the service, the more she thinks: Why not? After all, arranged marriages are the norm for millions of women around the world; maybe it could work for her.A few months later, Anne is traveling to a Mexican resort, where, over the course of a weekend, she meets and then marries Jack. And initially, everything seems to be working out…”
Thoughts: Anne Blythe is lonely. All she wants is to live happily ever after with her soul mate, as her namesake Anne Shirley Blythe does in the Anne of Green Gables series. Recognizing that she tends to make poor decisions when it comes to men, she entertains the notion of a dating service, only to discover it is actually an arranged marriage service – one that predicates its success on the idea that marriage is about friendship rather than love. Going against her long-cherished dream of a fairy tale romance, she opts to continue the process and ends up marrying her profile match, but the question remains whether she will get her happy ending after all. Catherine McKenzie’s second novel, Arranged, explores the world of arranged marriage, the damage caused by a society obsessed with fairy tale endings and the notion of romantic love, and one girl’s desire to reconcile the two.
Like all of Ms. McKenzie’s characters, there is an element of Every Girl in Anne. She represents almost every thirty-something single female frustrated with poor relationship choices and feeling a sense of desperation as friends pair off into married couples and start families of their own. Her job is not glamorous, and her money struggles are familiar to everyone. She is not drop-dead gorgeous, does not have a fabulously expensive and trendy wardrobe, is not polished and collected, and simply does not have it all. In other words, she is just like everyone else. It is this realism that makes Ms. McKenzie’s stories truly special, and Anne in Arranged is just another example of this.
All of Ms. McKenzie’s characters are readers, but in Arranged, she takes this fun element to a new level with characters named after one of the most beloved children’s novels of all time. She freely acknowledges the connection and uses it to create characters to which any bibliophile can relate. The lighthearted mocking that comes with a mother obsessed with the series and the random inclusion of certain very recognizable names, scenes, and dialogue only adds to the story’s charm.
Arranged is yet another very strong novel by Ms. McKenzie, in which she solidifies her reputation for quirky and adorable characters, strong female friendships, and storylines that never following the traditional path. She might write romantic comedies, but the path to happiness is never as expected and nor does it include a true happily-ever-after ending. Ms. McKenzie has the ability to create characters that are as relatable as they are enjoyable. Anne maintains the tradition of being realistic and endearing with her self-doubts, concerns about money, desire for happiness, and regular, ordinary life. Her journey through the experience of arranged marriages, the paradigm shifts required for such arrangements, and the reactions of family and friends to the news is utterly fascinating, while Anne’s bumbling and continued doubts make the story entrancing. As the second of three excellent and very different novels, Arranged proves that one can always rely on Ms. McKenzie to create a fun, easy-to-read, and creative story with characters that truly feel like long-lost friends.