The meet-cute is one of the most essential elements of any rom-com — as beloved as any hunky hero, relatable heroine, or swoon-inducing happily-ever-after.
So, when Helena Hunting set out to write her next novel about a young woman who has an embarrassing “meet cute” with her teenage celebrity crush and their ensuing relationship, there was only one title that made sense.
“Sometimes they’re just so epically wrong,” Hunting says of the popular romance trope. “And they leave the worst impression you could possibly have – but those tend to be the ones with the most amazing stories attached to them.”
For her, that story belongs to Kailyn, a law student whose literal run-in with movie star Daxton Hughes develops into something more until a gut-wrenching betrayal. Eight years later, Dax is back and seeking legal advice from Kailyn, but can she set aside her grudge to help her teenage crush once more?
Meet Cute doesn’t hit shelves until April 9 of next year, but EW has the exclusive first look at Hunting’s adorable vibrant cover that has us craving a milkshake. We also called up the author to get her thoughts on all things rom-com, fan-girling, and who her dream celebrity meet-cute would be. Read more from her after the cover below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you always want to write romance or how did you get into it?
HELENA HUNTING: I always liked writing and as a kid I would write stories, but I would never share anything. Poetry because when you’re a teenager you just write angsty things that are sad and all your feelings come out on paper. I was going to be a dietician and you have to take a lot of science, and I’m not actually very good at that. I did ok in high school, but as soon as you get to university level chemistry, you’re like, this is a nope. What can I do instead? So I decided I was going to get a degree in English. I went into teaching. I always wrote stuff, but I didn’t write anything thinking I was going to have a job that would revolve around it. Then, in 2008, I had my daughter and she did not sleep for like 4 years. When no one is sleeping and you’re on 4 days of 45 minutes of sleep at a time, it’s honestly torture, but you’re dreaming while you’re awake, so I started writing.
You’ve written your fair share of rom-coms. Do you like to watch them as well?
Yeah, I like slapsticky rom-coms like Blockers. I like Bridesmaids; that’s hilarious. So funny. I also really like action movies a lot mostly because of the superheroes in them. I wish they had more romance in those because I feel like I’d feel better about them. Emotional movies and movies that make you snot snob are fantastic, but when you can pair love and humor together [that’s the best] because I don’t think you can be in love without finding things funny sometimes.
The cover is so adorable – where did that idea for the milkshake come from?
We created a Pinterest board and I just kept putting pictures up there of people that I envisioned. I knew they were going to go illustrated with this one, and we kept trying to pull things out of the story that were really true to Dax and Kailyn. They came back to me with this really cute, vibrant yellow color with the couple sharing a milkshake. There’s a very interesting scene in the story where they’re at the diner, having milkshakes, and so it all connected there.
Meet Cute draws on one of the most popular tropes in the romance and rom-com genre – is it one you particularly enjoy?
Yes, definitely. When I’m watching a movie or reading a story, it’s that first meeting right? When I started writing about it and talking about it and outlining, Meet Cute was the title that we settled on from the beginning and then we tried to make sure the title fits the book, so we messed around with stuff and just kept going back to this.
Do you have a favorite meet cute in fiction or film?
In books, in the non-romantic comedy sort of way, I love the initial meeting of Bella and Edward in Twilight. That’s not a romantic comedy. That’s just a really awkward, weird situation.
Do you have your own meet-cute story? Or if not, maybe just a favorite embarrassing moment since they tend to intersect?
I have lots of embarrassing moments. I was in grade 9. It was the first day and I was walking up a flight of stairs and the entire football team watched me trip up the stairs. I was like this is just the worst first day of Grade 9 ever in the history of the world. At some point in time, I’ll write a YA and I’ll write that in. Not a meet cute, but a very embarrassing moment.
Romance novels are often about wish-fulfillment and you take it to the next level here with matching up a fan-girl with her favorite actor. Why was that a story you wanted to tell?
I think we all, or at least I had actors that I loved as a kid and if I ever met them today, I’d probably still be embarrassed meeting them. I’d like to think that I would be cool, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t. With this story, I just really liked the idea of somebody Kailyn has had a crush on her entire teenage years, and then all of a sudden she runs into him in the most embarrassing fashion. It could’ve gone so many different ways. They end up being in the same class and then it’s just embarrassing all over again. A friendly rivalry comes out of it, and then at the end of law school, an event happens and changes her entire perspective of who he is. Years later, he ends up in her office again, looking for help. Now, instead of holding a torch for him, she’s holding a grudge, but torches sometimes re-light themselves. That’s where their story really begins.
Ginny Weasley getting with Harry Potter proved to readers that the fangirl could grow up and get the guy. Are you offering us the same service?
(Laughs) Totally. I was super thrilled when Ginny and Harry finally hooked up. That was great. I’m sure there’s like a billion fan-fics about all of that. I guess I am throwing the fan-girls a bone. It’s that ultimate dream, that you could actually fall in love with a real person. Not just the character. You get the real human being behind the actor or the roles they play.
Having been an author for a while, do you feel you come up against people being condescending about the genre?
I have some really great friends who are super supportive, and they love it. I have some people who are like, “I don’t read romance,” and I’m like, “OK, I’m sure that explains why you’ve never fallen in love.” I would never say that out loud. Just think it in my head. There’s an idea that it’s not real. But it is. It is the one thing that most people are looking for in their entire lives. Their whole worlds are built on relationships and love. Whether it’s hero-heroine, whether it’s your family, it’s all about relationships so I don’t know why anyone would not want to read about successful ones and the challenges you have to go through to get there.
Lastly, what celebrity would you want to have your own meet-cute with?
Jason Momoa. I don’t even have to think about that. I will go and see Aquaman by myself, probably more than once just so I can look at him without a shirt on for two hours. He’s married, sadly. But we can just pretend he’s not.