Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

by Talia Hibbert Talia Hibbert
Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute

by Talia Hibbert Talia Hibbert


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Notes From Your Bookseller

What happens when two ex-best friends sign up for the same outdoor survival course? Romance, of course. Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute is a fresh, clever, rom-com about igniting a spark with the person who’s been in front of you all along.

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors-and each other.

Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He's a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.
Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption-yet, she's still not cool enough for the popular kids' table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that's how Celine sees it.)

These days, there's nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she's surprised to find Brad right beside her.

Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF of the glossary from the book.

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Editorial Reviews

JANUARY 2023 - AudioFile

Amina Koroma and Jonathan Andrew Hume bring liveliness and charm to this utterly delightful YA debut from a beloved British romance author. Koroma delivers all the snark and wit of Celine, a stellar student, confident weirdo, and TikTok star who is ready to take on the world—starting with a wilderness survival expedition that could win the attention of her hero. Unfortunately, her ex-best-friend-now-rival Brad joins that expedition, and is being way too cute. Hume captures Brad’s sweet charm, along with his spiraling anxieties and OCD; days in the woods, uncertainty about Celine’s feelings for him, and family pressure are adding up. Listeners are certain to laugh, cheer, and root for the two to find their way back into each other’s hearts. E.E.C. © AudioFile 2023, Portland, Maine

Publishers Weekly


Hibbert (the Brown Sisters series) imbues this enemies-to-lovers romance with whip-smart banter, British sensibilities, and energetic verve. Black high school student and aspiring lawyer Celine Bangura is determined to land a spot in the Breakspeare Enrichment survival course program, win one of the offered full-ride university scholarships, and rub her success in her estranged father’s face. When a squabble with charming Black footballer and former best friend Bradly Graeme leads to the pair attending the program’s info session together, Brad is persuaded to apply, hoping a scholarship can help mitigate his own financial woes. Upon acceptance, the duo participate in Breakspeare’s wilderness-intensive exercises, and realize they must put their past feelings aside and rely on each other if they hope to compete with the other ruthless scholarship-hopefuls. As they rekindle their former friendship and grow close romantically, Celine wrestles with her emotionally avoidant tendencies while Brad manages his obsessive-compulsive disorder amid the program’s competitive, high-stress events. With dialogue that juggles both laugh-out-loud humor and pull-at-the-heartstrings vulnerability amid an outdoorsy premise, Hibbert attentively captures Celine’s feelings of abandonment and resentment, and Brad’s mental health struggles while striking a quintessential balance of romance and comedy in this lively romp. Front matter includes a glossary of British slang and terms. Ages 12–up. Agent: Courtney Miller-Callihan, Handspun Literary. (Jan.)

From the Publisher

Praise for Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute:

★ “A zippy rom-com with strong characterization, bursting with Gen Z–approved verbal sparring and stolen kisses.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
★ “Between the quippy, energetic snipes and entertainingly uncomfortable scenarios, Hibbert has built a cast of characters with real depth and heart, and readers will hope for their happy endings as they stumble their way toward joy.” —Booklist, Starred Review

“With dialogue that juggles both laugh-out-loud humor and pull-at-the-heartstrings vulnerability amid an outdoorsy premise, Hibbert attentively captures Celine’s feelings of abandonment and resentment, and Brad’s mental health struggles while striking a quintessential balance of romance and comedy in this lively romp.”—Publishers Weekly

A pure delight. This book is confirmation: no one does love stories like Talia Hibbert.”—LEAH JOHNSON, bestselling author of You Should See Me in a Crown and Rise to the Sun

“An effervescent, funny, tender, and joyous story.”—YAMILE SAIED MÉNDEZ, award-winning author of Furia and Twice a Quinceañera

“A razor-sharp, witty enemies-to-lovers rom-com. Readers will laugh out loud and swoon at the same time. Simply unputdownable.”—EMIKO JEAN, New York Times bestselling author of Tokyo Ever After

“Hibbert delivers yet another swoon-worthy romance filled with banter that made me grin like a fool from one page to the next. I dare you not to fall in love.”—JESSE Q. SUTANTO, bestselling author of Dial A for Aunties and Well, That Was Unexpected

“Don’t miss out on the laugh-out-loud childhood-friends-to-enemies-to-rivals-to-lovers romance that will warm your heart this winter!” —The Nerd Daily

“A great addition to any library’s YA shelves.”—School Library Journal

Side-splittingly hilarious.”—PopSugar

“An emotional and satisfying story that’s well-written and heartfelt, full of Hibbert’s trademark banter and heart. A joyful, escapist delight.” —Paste Magazine

Highly Suspicious and Unfairly Cute will leave readers eager to discover what else Joy Revolution will publish.” —BookPage

“A cozy read.”—Cosmopolitan

Skillfully written romantic banter make this an engrossing rom-com.”—The Horn Book

School Library Journal


Gr 9 Up—Romance author Hibbert's first foray into YA fiction has all the signs of her lovable adult love stories placed squarely in the world of teen angst. Celine Bangura and Bradley Graeme were friends until a fractious turned them into enemies. Both are highly competitive for top marks in their school and know all too well how to irk each other. When a scholarship opportunity places them out of their comfort zone, they find themselves thrust far too close to stomach. As they trade barbs, they begin to experience other feelings for each other that they loathe acknowledging until a chance kiss changes the direction of their relationship. A series of unfortunate accidents happen that leaves Celine and Bradley no choice but to recognize their feelings and see where it takes them. Hibbert does a fantastic job describing the ways the two main characters represent their Blackness throughout, which is a definite highlight of this story. The main characters initially feel unlikable the first part of the book, but they are presented in a more likable light as their enemies-to-lovers story unfolds. The surrounding characters, especially their family members, play a major role in the story, but readers don't experience their respective friend groups enough to have context on how their relationship changed. VERDICT A great addition to any library's YA shelves, especially where there's a gap in the collection for love stories featuring Black teens.—David Roberts

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2022-09-28
Two Black British ex–best friends tumble into an unexpected romance in this YA debut by noted romance author Hibbert.

On paper, Bradley Graeme and Celine Bangura are complete opposites. Brad is a handsome soccer player who can charm anyone in a five-mile radius. Celine is a fiercely guarded perfectionist who runs a popular conspiracy theory TikTok channel. After a major falling out nearly four years ago, the two avoid each other at all costs. When Celine learns that her hero, human rights lawyer Katharine Breakspeare, is running a program offering three full scholarships for incoming university students, she knows she has to apply—even if it requires two wilderness survival expeditions in a Scottish forest. She also wants to prove a point to her estranged father, whose corporate law firm is a sponsor. For his part, Brad is eager to win a scholarship that would mean he wouldn’t have to take out loans after all. As their final year of school progresses, the 17-year-olds are thrown together as they attempt to conquer the Breakspeare course. Along the way, they regain mutual trust, reignite their long-simmering feelings, and discover their authentic selves. The pair’s relationship sparkles with tender moments and vulnerable revelations, balancing swoonworthy infatuation with sincere empathy. Brad, who is bisexual and has obsessive-compulsive disorder, helps Celine finally process the pain of her dad’s abandonment.

A zippy rom-com with strong characterization, bursting with Gen Z–approved verbal sparring and stolen kisses. (author’s note, glossary) (Romance. 12-18)

Product Details

BN ID: 2940175167918
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 01/03/2023
Edition description: Unabridged
Sales rank: 495,645

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


It’s the first day of school and I’m already being forced to ­socialize.

“I’m dead serious,” Nicky Cassidy says, his eyes wide and his acid-­wash shirt stained with what looks like tomato sauce. “Juice WRLD is alive, Celine. The planet needs to know.”

My TikTok account has 19,806 followers—@HowCeline SeesIt, feel free to take me to 20K—so God knows how I’m supposed to inform the entire planet of anything. Besides, I make videos about UFOs and vaccines (conclusion: I believe in both) and that guy who hijacked a plane and literally vanished with the ransom money. I don’t make videos about people’s tragic deaths because it’s rude and tacky.

Also, I don’t take requests. For God’s sake, I am a conspiracy theorist. There must be some glamor in that, or else what’s the point?

“Sorry, Nicky,” I reply. “Still no.”

He is appalled by my lack of sensitivity to his cause. “You’re joking.”

“Almost never.”

“Fine. If you don’t want to tell the truth, I’ll do it. Your TikTok’s shit anyway.” He storms off, leaving me to cross campus on my own.

So much for Mum’s hope that I’ll make more friends this year.

Oh well. I inhale the warm September air and stride through the school’s higgledy-­piggledy pathways alone. Rosewood Academy is a rambling maze, but this is my final year, so I know it like I know Beyoncé’s discography. It takes five minutes to reach the Beech Hut—aka our sixth-­form common area/cafeteria, a tiny, musty building that begs to be knocked down. I snag my usual table by the noticeboard and get on with the very important business of ignoring everyone around me.

I’m on my phone stitching together some footage of cows that I filmed this weekend for a video about the possibility of cannibalistic bovine overlords running the beef industry when my best friend slides into the chair beside me and waves a glossy leaflet in my face.

“Have you seen this?” Michaela demands, her pink curls vibrating with excitement.

“I haven’t,” I say, “and if you put my eye out with it, I never will.”

“Don’t be miserable. Look.” She slams down the flyer and crows, “Katharine Breakspeare!” Then she clicks her tongue piercing against her teeth, which is Minnie’s personal version of a mic drop.

It works. I fall all over that shiny piece of paper like it’s a plate of nachos.

There she is: Katharine Breakspeare, her wide mouth severe (no ladylike smiles for Katharine, thank you very much) and her hair perfectly blown out. They did a whole article in Vogue about that blowout, which is ridiculous considering Katharine’s famous for her trailblazing career in human rights law. Commentators call this woman the James Bond of the courtroom because she’s so damn cool; she’s won at least three inter­nationally significant, high-­profile cases in the last five years; she bought her mother an entire compound back in Jamaica to retire to. And Vogue is talking about her hair. I mean, yes, the hair is gorgeous, but come on, people.

Katharine Breakspeare is the blueprint and one day I’m going to be her, building my mum a house in Sierra Leone.

My eyes narrow as I study the leaflet. “ ‘Apply for the Breakspeare Enrichment Program,’ ” I read. “Her nature bootcamp thing? But that’s only for undergrads.”

“Not anymore.” Minnie grins, tapping the words in front of us. “ ‘Award-­winning enrichment program now open to those aged sixteen to eighteen—’ ”

“ ‘—for the first time ever,’ ” I finish reading. “ ‘Set yourself apart from the crowd, nurture early bonds with prestigious employers, and be in with the chance to win a full university scholarship. . . .’ ” My mouth is numb. My throat is dry. My nerves are fried. “I need a drink.”

Michaela is a dancer; she never goes anywhere without a disgustingly heavy two-­liter flask of water. “Here ya go,” she says brightly, and causes a small earthquake by slamming it on the table.

“Where did you get this?” I demand between desperate gulps, shaking the Golden Leaflet of Opportunity.

“Mr. Darling’s office.”

“Mr. Darling’s— Minnie. It’s the first day of school. How are you on his shit list already?”

“I’m not,” she says primly. “It was a preliminary warning. You know: Focus on school this year, Michaela, or you’ll die homeless under a bridge by twenty-­five. The usual morale-­boosting stuff.”

“Oh, babe. That’s not true. He’s just jealous of your fabulous hair and giant brain.”

“Stop. You know I don’t listen to him. I have bigger plans.” It’s true. She’s going to be like Jessica Alba in my older sister’s favorite film, Honey, except much cooler and actually Black. Then she winks and taps the paper. “And so do you.”

No, I don’t: focusing on school is my big plan, because that’s how you get into Cambridge, which is how you get an excellent law degree and take over the world.

But I’ve done the research and read the forums: companies— including law firms—fall all over themselves to hire Breakspeare Enrichment Program alums because the program produces uniquely driven and capable candidates with work ethics and abilities worthy of Katharine’s own reputation. It’s not like other enrichment programs where you memorize textbooks and complete work experience. In this one, you’re put out into the wilderness where you try to survive and, ideally, thrive, for what I’m sure are completely logical reasons. (It is true that I’m hazy on details, but I trust that Katharine knows what she’s doing.)

Nature isn’t really my thing—not anymore. But I would gargle pond water to get within three feet of this opportunity for the clout alone, never mind the scholarship. So it turns out this is it: my new agenda for the last year of school. Goodbye, Latin Club, and farewell to volunteering at the animal hospital.

It’s time to make space for camping with Katharine.

Apparently, anyone interested in the details can attend a meeting in Nottingham later this week. I flip the leaflet over, searching for a map, but instead I see a QR code labeled “RSVP” and the logos of all the companies involved. The list is long. Some are huge, like Boots; some are small but powerful, like Games Workshop; and I see plenty of law firms, too, which is—


My dad’s firm is a sponsor.

Minnie sees my face, then follows my gaze. “What? What?” She squints at the page.

“Wear your glasses, Michaela,” I mutter sharply.

“Not with these lashes.” She bats her falsies at me (I think I feel a breeze), then reads “ ‘Lawrence, Needham and Soro, corporate law, established 1998.’ ”

I swallow hard. My throat is dry again. I chug some more water.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Minnie says. “I do need that, you know. You want me to dry up like a prune?” She reclaims the mammoth bottle and says, “Soro. Why does that sound familiar? Soro, Soro—”

“My dad works there.”

Minnie winces. She’s my best friend, so we know stuff about each other’s families. As in, I know her gran’s a lesbophobic cowbag and she knows my dad ditched us for his second family ten years ago and I haven’t seen him since. The usual girl stuff. Grimacing, she squeaks, “Maybe the sponsoring firms won’t be super involved?”

“I honestly couldn’t care less.” I’m not lying. He’s the one with something to be ashamed of. I’m the one who’s a credit to my family name.

Which is Bangura, not Soro, thank you very much.

I slip the leaflet into my bag, pressed between the pages of a textbook to keep it fresh and uncreased. “I’ll think about this. Thanks, Min.”

She blows me a kiss as the bell rings, and we get up for class. Only then do I realize who slunk into the Beech Hut while Minnie and I were talking.

Bradley Graeme is here.

Alongside, you know, a ton of other people, but he stands out as the King of Uselessness. He and his breathless fan club are ensconced at their usual table, miles away from the admin office, which allows them to get away with breaking all kinds of rules.

Case in point: Bradley Graeme is currently bouncing a Completely Illicit Football off his head. His short, shiny twists are jumping, and his grin is wide and carefree the way only a truly terrible person’s can be.

Minnie leans in as we walk by. “Do you think Brad’s applying to Cambridge?”

“Of course he is,” I mutter. When does he ever miss a chance to show off?

“So, you might see him at interviews and stuff. Right?”

Ugh. God forbid. “I don’t care, stop looking at him.”

She arches an eyebrow. “You started it.”

Yeah, well. Who can avoid looking at Bradley? His sheer annoyingness creates its own gravitational pull.

His fan club—consisting of 70 percent boys’ football team and 30 percent girls whose parents pay for their mammoth Depop wardrobes, which equals 100 percent skinny, glowing people who practice TikTok dances unironically and spend their weekends being bland and hooking up at house parties—is absolutely entranced by his tomfoolery like they’ve never seen a ball before. Except for Jordan Cooper, who rolls his eyes, snatches the ball out of the air, and says in his flat American accent, “Cut it out, or Mr. Darling will rip you a new one.”