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An hour inside the app that brings your YA romance novel boyfriend to life

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Or, my morning on the C train!

Crave

Please take yourself back to a time when you were young and looking for love in all the wrong places. Specifically, Facebook. Recall the sensation of looking at four-year-old photos of a person that you suspected had at one point kissed your love interest as part of a staged play or perhaps a dare. Now recall what happened to your body when your love interest sent you a direct message about the Calculus assignment while you were in the middle of doing that. It was very confusing to your heart and to your shame center (if that's a thing), was it not? Remember adrenaline seeping into your kneecaps and stomach lining and lingering unpleasantly.

Receiving an extremely high frame rate GIF of a fictional character that you are fictionally romanticizing quite aptly recalls that sensation. It is one part horror, two parts luscious relief at the thought of getting away with something so unbelievably weird.

Meet your book boyfriend!

This is the premise of Crave, a new iOS app that promises to introduce you to your new "book boyfriend." It does so by adding interactive features — such as GIFs, sound bytes, animated iMessage conversations, and bizarre quiz questions — to romance novels. Or, romance novel, as there is only one book currently available on Crave. It's called November 9, and was written by Colleen Hoover.

The app itself is free, and so are the first seven chapters of November 9. If you want more, you can subscribe for a monthly fee of $3.99 and look forward to the delivery of a new chapter each day. Each chapter of this book is about 200 words long. Netflix, a service that you probably use during most of your waking hours, costs $9.99 per month. That's just some context for you to consider, as I did not consider it and immediately subscribed after finishing the free trial.

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Hoover's writing is not really the point, though this is the kind of writing that teaches normal teens how to behave like fledgling neurotics. The point is that dating the character she's written would be fucking awful. She's not just a bad writer — she's willed a genuine monster into existence. Think of the worst person you met during your freshman year of college. Now make him talk like an alien. That's my doting "book boyfriend" in the nutshell.

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My book boyfriend's first interior monologue is about whether or not a woman with burn scars on her face and neck also has scars on her boobs. His November 9 co-star is a young woman (former child actress, horribly burned in a house fire) who could not possibly finish eating an entire serving of salmon. The pair meet in a diner, when boy inserts himself into girl's argument with her overbearing father. He pretends to be her boyfriend to save her from being humiliated when her father berates her for not going on enough dates. Classic!

Here are some things that my "book boyfriend" said, either out loud to another character or inside his own awful skull:

"If we're just going to sit here and stare at each other, it'd be nice if she were showing a little cleavage."

"As smooth as I tried to be, I didn’t ease into this girl’s life with the discreet grace of a fox."

"I practically live in Starbucks. I'm a writer. It's a rite of passage."

"Do people really not flirt with her? Is this because of her scars or because of her insecurities about her scars?"

"I'm still attempting to discern if she's got an incredible deadpan wit, or absolutely no personality at all."

"Validify isn't actually a word."

My BBF (book boyfriend) considers flirting a game of sinisterly concealed motives and aggressive criticism of a partner's speech, appearance, and eating habits. Like almost all mainstream YA characters, he is emphatically heterosexual. My BBF is the epitome of bland masculinity in a peacoat, with a Creative Writing major and a penchant for objectification to boot. And he won't stop texting me.

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But even if this was a content-rich version of the YA series I loved most as a teen, I would still hate it. Animated text conversations between our heroine and her mom aren't just weird, they're boring, and they yank you out of the story. Needing to plug in headphones to hear parts of the dialogue but not others is just overtly dumb.

I seriously hate my book boyfriend. He sucks

Most notably, showing me a photo of my "book boyfriend" is a ruinously terrible idea. Selecting an actor to portray a character from a book is always a fraught task — movie adaptations of books invariably shatter someone's mental image of a beloved character.

In this situation the private mental image is never even permitted to exist — as soon as Benton James Kessler (what a name!) is introduced, we're given a photo. This is what your dreamboat looks like: he is white, he is rogue-ish, he is wearing a peacoat, and in my opinion, he sucks. He looks like every rude frat boy I ever served overpriced pizza bagels to in college. I have also genuinely struggled with depleted physical attraction to someone because they were wearing a peacoat, and while that might not be a common problem, it's kind of the point. This sort of book is supposed to be one-size-fits-all because it's elastic, not because we're all exactly the same.

There is such a thing as too much content, as challenging as that is for me to admit. On the plus side, this app will make your fellow commuters extremely interested in your cell phone screen!