The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun is the story of a reality TV romance flipped on its head. The story follows Dev Deshpande, a producer on the fictional reality show Ever After (think The Bachelor but with a fairy tale overlay) who happens to also be somewhat of a hopeless romantic. Dev grew up on Ever After, watching the couples have a real life fairy tale helped him believe it exists and that someday, he could have the same thing. Except that for this new season, Ever After‘s Prince Charming is seemingly a wreck.
Charles Winshaw, the gorgeous billionaire eligible bachelor, is Ever After‘s Prince Charming, and he is far from it. Charles doesn’t believe in love and is using the show to get his tech job back. Charles owned half of the company he helped found, WinShaw, but was ousted from his role as CTO due to some events that occurred during an important meeting. Charles thinks that with the level of exposure that the show can bring him, that he can earn his role back and get his life back on track. What he didn’t expect to find was real love on the set.
From the jump, Charles is a piping hot mess. He’s nervous and he’s particular; he’s not a fan of germs or people touching him without consent. In the promotional shoot for the show, Charles is unable to do the typical romantic prince shot on a white horse, much to his then producer’s chagrin, which results in Dev getting assigned to be Charles’ producer. Dev is the most successful producer on the show and after mostly working with the women on the show, he’s not sure he’s up for the challenge of getting Charles to become Prince Charming material.
As Dev begrudgingly takes on the role to be Charles’ producer, he’s set on getting to know him to understand what he’s looking for in a princess to ultimately get Charles the happy ending he deserved. This meant working overtime to get Charles to open up to him, and working with him on what makes him comfortable. Dev learns that Charles has OCD and makes sure the folks on the set are aware of things that might make Charles uncomfortable, including touching.
However, with time, Charles or Charlie at this point, begins to trust Dev and starts opening up to him. What he didn’t know was that in opening up to Dev, he began feeling something foreign that also felt right. With time, he realizes his attraction to Dev and is unsure of what to do with this information given that he’s on a show with a dozen women looking to be his wife, and the potential to earn his job back.
Common Themes + Opinions:
The biggest theme in this book is mental health. Both Charlie and Dev each have their own struggles with mental health. With Charlie, he’s struggled with his OCD and severe anxiety since childhood. Though he seemingly did not have much support, he grappled with it as best he could despite continuing to struggle with being neurodivergent in a neurotypical world. He always felt misunderstood by his peers and as a result, had low self esteem; he didn’t believe in love because he didn’t feel deserving of it because of his OCD and anxiety. It stopped him from making real connections with others as he often felt like a burden.
As for Dev, he struggles with bouts of depression. It’s described in the book that when Dev is experiencing a low, he shelters off for days at a time and is unable to get out of bed or perform basic daily functions such as showering or shaving. He’s used to masking his depression to focus on becoming “Fun Dev” or the version of himself he’s convinced people only want to see. While depression is its own animal to deal with, it enforces the idea in Dev’s head that he’s not deserving of the fairy tale love he’s always dreamed of and in turn, closes himself off to the opportunity before he can get hurt.
To tie into the theme of mental health, the other theme in this book is about being your true authentic self. Dev has felt like he’s been who he truly is, however, because he hides his depression and fakes that he’s okay, no one’s really seen the true Dev. He puts forth the “Fun Dev” he thinks people prefer and closes off to anyone who might see the real true Dev, who grapples with depression and feelings of low self worth.
For Charlie, his time on the show began a transformative journey into understanding who he really is and that him being his authentic self is acceptable, any flaws and all. He accepts that his OCD and anxiety are part of him and that it doesn’t make him less of a person, and importantly, that he is a queer man still figuring out his sexuality and what feels comfortable to him. By the end of the book, both Dev and Charlie made progress with their mental health; opening up their true selves to the people that really care about them to accept the love that they’re readily giving them.
Final Thoughts + Ratings:
Overall, The Charm Offensive was a decent read. I’ll admit, it took me a while to get into it and even after that, I struggled to get through it. Reading through some of the scenarios Charlie was forced into, despite being uncomfortable made me uncomfortable. To add, reading about Charlie’s and Dev’s mental health struggles was tough to read too. I do feel like it was good representation of what someone who is going through depression may struggle with, as I did find myself identifying with Dev’s struggles. I also enjoyed reading their journeys to better mental health, and obviously the love story being told. That said, this wasn’t my favorite book. It’s somewhat of a slow burn, though I felt like it went very very slow.
All in all, I give the Charm Offensive 3.5 stars for its LGBTQIA+ representation, its mental health representation, and the brewing love story behind the scenes of a fictional reality show.
Did you read The Charm Offensive? Let me know what you think in the comments!