Queering Conventional Rom–com Tropes in She Drives Me Crazy By Kelly Quindlen

By Machteld Laan

What needs to change for a cishet trope to be applied in a book about LGBTQIA+ characters? For example, how do two characters go from I HATE YOU, to I love you? This is the central question in She Drives Me Crazy (2021) by Kelly Quindlen.  Quindlen’s books are part of a boom in contemporary Young Adult books featuring LGBTQIA+ protagonists, which normalize queer narratives and LGBTQIA+ identities. These recent publications  reinvent conventional tropes by presenting previously heteronormative narratives in such a way that queer experiences are foregrounded; thus LGBTQIA+ experiences become recognizable, accessible and, most importantly, enjoyable for an adolescent audience. One of the books that does this impressively this year is She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen. This author is an active participant in Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and other communities that aim to support queer people. She has previously published two other books: Her Name in the Sky (2014) and Late to the Party (2020), which, like She Drives Me Crazy, all feature sapphic love stories. 

Some highlights of recent Young Adult LGBTQIA+ publications that twist previously  heteronormative romance tropes are Red, White & Royal Blue (2019)by Casey McQuiston,  Loveless (2020) by Alice Oseman, and May the Best Man Win (2021) by Z.R. Ellor. In Red, White & Royal Blue, the ‘female commoner falls in love with the prince’ trope is tweaked to be a political drama in which the Prince of England and the son of the (female) President of the United States  navigate a relationship that begins as a public-relations hoax and turns into a love story. Loveless  tells the tale of a girl who comes to realize that although romantic and sexual attraction are not  in the cards for her, there is still a love story out there for her in the form of her friendships. May the Best Man Win breaks some stereotypes as well, as a sensitive neurodivergent jock and a  transmasculine cheerleader are engaged in a battle for the title of Homecoming King. This battle is complicated by the fact that they are exes and didn’t process their break-up well. In all these  novels traditional heteronormative conventions are adapted to show how stories might turn out very differently when tropes are queered.  

She Drives Me Crazy could be described as a delightful mixture of the conventional tropes, such as enemies-to-lovers, fake dating, and the jock-dates-the-cheerleader, tweaked to fit into a queer narrative.  

Scottie Zajac and Irene Abraham do not get along with each other at all, especially since Irene had Scottie’s car towed for no apparent reason. However, everything changes when Scottie spectacularly loses a basketball game to her ex-girlfriend Tally. After the game, Scottie and Irene get in a fender bender in the school parking lot, and their moms decide that they must carpool to school together until Irene’s car is fixed.  

Although Scottie hates Irene, she does not hate the attention she gets from Tally because of her  new popular-by-association status. In addition, Scottie’s basketball team gets better with Irene and other cheerleaders at the sidelines, which raises Scottie’s hope of winning against Tally in their next game against each other. Consequently, to maintain her team’s winning streak and to get back at Tally, Scottie proposes that she and Irene start fake dating. This is the start of a bumpy ride: a reluctant friendship, and a rom-com-worthy sapphic love story that is packed with all the good tropes in an original jacket.   

Let’s begin with the fake dating trope, which is an inherently weird principle. You’re basically dating someone, but with the emotional insecurity of knowing that they don’t like you too much  and that you may or may not be growing to love them—which is usually how it turns out in fiction. She Drives Me Crazy is no different. The fake dating trope is often the product of mutual  necessity and therefore also a mutually beneficial arrangement. Scottie offers Irene the money for her car insurance deductible in exchange for months of fake dating. All Irene seems to get out of it is the money. Scottie directly says, “I want to pay you to date me” (86), and I have to say, the idea that Scottie is paying Irene to be her girlfriend leaves a weird taste in my mouth, even if the rest of the book—and Scottie and Irene’s love story—is really sweet. The evolution of their relationship into romantic territory is, luckily, gradual enough for me to feel like it is just an unfortunate beginning, rather than the initiation of a toxic relationship.   

Speaking of toxic relationships, Scottie initially starts fake dating Irene to get back at her ex-girlfriend. Tally’s toxic influence on Scottie is referenced throughout the book by Scottie’s friends  and sisters. It is one of her sisters who tells Scottie that dating Tally had made her “a walking insecurity” (62), but it takes Scottie a while to fully accept that her relationship with Tally wasn’t as rose-colored as she remembers it.   

Tally acts like a typical jealous girlfriend, only paying attention to Scottie on social media when she is seen with Irene, even though they have broken up. This hints at a love triangle, which is one of the most common tropes in YA fiction in the early 2000s (Twilight (2005) by Stephanie Meyer is a prime example of this), but it doesn’t turn into a full-blown competition for her heart. Instead,  She Drives Me Crazy beautifully illustrates how finding a new relationship after a break-up is about mourning and letting go before moving on to a new partner.  

She Drives Me Crazy can also be added to the ever-growing list of ‘enemies to lovers’ stories. This trope is also very old and can be traced back for centuries (Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen, for example). As the trope suggests, the protagonist and their love interest overcome their differences and reevaluate their misconceptions of each other over the course of a book or book series. This ultimately leads them to start a romantic relationship.  Quindlen expertly shows how much Scottie and Irene dislike each other in their passive aggressivity after the car crash; for example, Scottie tells Irene that “‘[h]aving your car towed  sucks,’ I say with fake sympathy. “Happened to me once. I really feel for you’” (23). Their moms are oblivious to this and push the two girls together until Irene’s car needs fixing: “‘Scottie can give Irene a ride!’ Mom declares, her eyes bright. ‘Please, please, we insist. It’s the least we could do.’” (24). It’s also the thing Scottie least wants to do.   

Through their forced proximity, they cannot help but agree upon a cease-fire; however, it was,  interestingly enough, not the initial carpooling that put them on the path towards a romantic relationship. Rather, the trajectory of their relationship changes once they start fake dating: they stop resenting each other when they become friends through the sharing of personal stories and secrets. As someone who identifies with the asexual spectrum, it is refreshing to read a rom-com without the instant love and attraction that pervades YA fiction. It is nice to read about two girls who really get to know each other before starting a romantic relationship, instead of diving headfirst into a teenage-lust-fueled affair. 

She Drives Me Crazy also makes the reader reconsider the stereotypical representations of jocks and cheerleaders. Jocks are often the object of (unattainable) desire in contemporary YA fiction, but if anyone were to wonder who the jock was dating, eight out of ten times it would be the cheerleader, and the other times it would be ‘the outsider,’ in secret, or only after a perilous 250-page ride through high school angst and reconciliation.  

When a jock and cheerleader date, they are often portrayed as either the popular ‘happily ever after’ couple or a pair of toxic bullies. These archetypal characters are strictly gendered—the jock being male and the cheerleader female—which is demonstrated and subverted in the novel NO! Jocks Don’t Date Guys (2015) by Wade Kelly, in which a jock is expected to date and marry a cheerleader like his brother, father, and grandfather but ends up dating a guy instead.  

She Drives Me Crazy also complicates and subverts the stereotypical idea of the jock and the cheerleader: Scottie and Irene both identify as female, and—despite their initial misconceptions—they are actually nice people. Scottie may be a jock by virtue of her being on the varsity Girls Basketball team, but she distinctly lacks the popularity that (male) jocks—football players in particular—enjoy in common depictions in popular culture. Irene, on the other hand, is widely popular as a cheerleader, but isn’t regarded as an athlete at her school. She wants to become  Student Athlete of the Year to prove that cheerleading is in fact a sport.  

It is refreshing to see a representation of high school athletics that doesn’t form a monolith around the ‘athletes’ (including cheerleaders) and ‘non-athletes,’ because it was my experience during my year as an exchange student at Ainsworth High School that these groups weren’t mutually exclusive. Cheerleaders did usually cheer for the boys’ teams, but this was mostly because some of them would be part of the girls’ teams. Moreover, the jocks and cheerleaders weren’t ‘cliqued’; everyone had their own personality and friend groups—which would overlap with the various activities that they were involved in, like plays and clubs.  Quindlen’s depiction thus shows a more nuanced picture of high school students than most high school narratives.   

In this exploration of tropes, I cannot leave out that Quindlen references several classic rom-com movies in She Drives Me Crazy, as the intertextuality provides an interesting angle for the way her novel explicitly builds on the classic narratives.  

The novelinteracts with three classic rom-coms, in particular: Can’t Buy me Love (1987), Dirty Dancing (1987) and Say Anything (1989). Quindlen expertly uses these references to highlight  how their tropes still permeate mainstream media, but she also shows how they can be used to bring new narratives into the world.  

For example, Irene’s response to Scottie asking her to date her for money is, “[i]s this some kind of Can’t Buy Me Love fantasy?” (86).  And when Scottie admits to loving Say Anything for its boombox scene with John Cusack, Irene states that it is “empty and self-indulgent” for its lack of actual communication (168). However, after Scottie performs a dance routine to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” from Irene’s favorite movie Dirty Dancing (1987), Irene holds up a boombox and plays “She Drives Me Crazy”. Irene attributes this song-change to the fact that “the other one is so fucking cheesy. ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ is much more our vibe” (290).  

All in all, She Drives Me Crazy is a swoon-worthy love story that is built on tropes that have made the romance genre popular throughout the years. The clever ways in which the timeless rom-com tropes are reinvented and queered in the novel will simultaneously surprise the reader and take them into a warm embrace of familiarity.  

Machteld Laan is an M.A. Literature Today student at Utrecht University. As a B.A. student in Literary Studies (also at UU) she was educated in stories by and about marginalized people, which focused on the delicate balance between amplifying voices and speaking for them. In previous research, she has explored topics such as sexuality, world literature, and English literatures. She is especially interested in stories that find new ways to explore the topics of sexuality and positionality.

Works Cited

  • Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. Penguin Classics, 2003.
  • Can’t Buy me Love. Directed by Steve Rash, performances by Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, and Courtney Gains, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 1987.
  • Dirty Dancing. Directed by Emile Ardolino, performances by Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, and
    Cynthia Rhodes, Vestron Pictures, 1987.
  • Ellor, Z.R. May the Best Man Win. Roaring Book Press, 2021.
  • Fine Young Cannibals. “She Drives Me Crazy.” The Raw and the Crooked, London Music Stream
    Ltd., 1988. CD.
  • Kelly, Wade. NO! Jocks Don’t Date Guys. Dreamspinner Press, 2015.
  • Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.
  • McQuiston, Casey. Red, White & Royal Blue. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019
  • Oseman, Alice. Loveless. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2020.
  • Quindlen, Kelly. Her Name in the Sky. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
  • —. Late to the Party. Roaring Book Press, 2020.
  • —. She Drives Me Crazy. Roaring Book Press, 2021.
  • —. “About Me.” Kelly Quindlen, https://www.kellyquindlen.com/about-me. Accessed 15 October 2021.
  • Say Anything. Directed by Cameron Crowe, performances by John Cusack, Ione Skye, and John
    Mahoney, 20th Century Fox, 1989.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: