Review: Magnolia Parks (2023) by Jessa Hastings

Gossip Girl but make it posh.

Published by Dutton

423 Pages. Full Length Novel

A book cover of a woman laying down on her stomach, in a pink chiffon dress with pink heels, and a boy laying next to her with his knees propped up
‘Magnolia Parks’ Second Edition Cover Design. Image: GoodReads

The Magnolia Parks Universe is seven-book, incomplete-series centering the lives of two famous, wealthy, and gorgeous British high society women in their twenties, and their messy inter-personal relationships. The first book, Magnolia Parks (2023) was initially self-published by author Jessa Hastings on July 13, 2021, who then sold the publishing rights to Dutton in the first-quarter of 2023, and is told in the first-person with alternating perspectives between both the titular character and her childhood sweetheart (and current ex-boyfriend) BJ Ballentine.

Picture of author Jessa Hastings, in black and white, bordered with an eclectic selection of colourful fruits and vegetation
Jessa Hastings. Image:

Indeed, amidst immersive, engaging and accessible prose, a version of modern-day London that could only be described as equally glossy and glamorous, a full cast of characters and side characters each boasting distinct personalities and idiosyncrasies, and a central romance that is full of yearning, heartbreak, and a tremendous amount of angst, Hastings keeps considerations of a plot-heavy story to a minimum and instead opts to lean heavily in on a character-driven narrative. That is, the novel is founded on the strength of its characters – their insecurities, their fears, their goals, their motivations, their desires, their flaws – thus forming the bedrock on to which this novel operates. Of which, Magnolia and BJ are front and center.

Readers who are acquiesced with the contemporary romance genre, will immediately spot the potential commercial appeal of Magnolia Parks. The prose is incredibly accessible and features a whimsical yet frenetic, lived-in quality that is clear right from the first chapter, characterization is placed front-and-center, and the framing of this story is beguiling, alluring, and offers readers a glimpse into the wealthy and glamorous lifestyle of high society London socialites.

Told in short, dual-perspective chapters between Magnolia and BJ, we are immediately acclimated to the kind of dynamic that exists between these star-crossed lovers. She is slightly neurotic, boasts an impressive knowledgeability (and on-the-spot recallability) of some of the most well-known luxury high fashion houses, and is every bit the epitome of the wealthy twenty-something socialite it-girl.He is the country’s most notorious tattoo-adorning womanizing bad-boy, almost always pictured in the society papers promoting a hedonistic lifestyle while surrounded by beautiful women. Together, they are dysfunctional, extremely codependent, and have a knack for constantly hurting one another in ways both overt and subtle. They are exes and are each other’s first serious relationship. And yet, it is clear to readers that both characters are still deeply, obviously, and painfully in-love with one another, with something preventing them from making it work. This becomes the central hook with which Hastings draws readers in. Indeed, Hastings opens the novel with an interaction that highlights every discernible quality of the dynamic between her two lead characters:

“I like this.” He tugs on my dress, coming up behind me. Black, Amiri Thrasher jeans (extra-torn, obviously), black Vans and the black and white raglan tee from Givenchy.

I stare at my reflection in his bedroom mirror. Tilt my head, squint my eyes and pretend like I’m the only girl who’s been in here lately. I make sure the necklace with his ring on it is tucked under and away where no one but me and probably he, later, can see it, then flatten the Peter Pan collar of the red, blue and white floral, satin jacquard dress.

“Miu Miu,” I tell him, catching his eye in the mirror.

I love his eyes.

He nodes coolly. “Slept with a Miu Miu model last week.”

I hate his eyes. I glare over at him for a second, swallow heavy to compose myself before smiling carefree. “I don’t care.”Magnolia Parks (2023) by Jessa Hastings

Throughout the tumultuous interactions between Magnolia and BJ, Hastings gravitates between heart-searing romance, and an ever-present ache that is only associated with mourning the loss of your first love. The ease with which the story unfolds, coupled with the prioritizing of character, begs the reader to find out why exactly Magnolia and BJ’s dysfunctional relationship is the way it is in its current iteration.

As a romance reader, this one hurt. Genuinely, truly, without a doubt, that pit-falling feeling you get in your stomach, like being delivered the worst of news. That is the reading experience of Magnolia Parks. I would hesitate to call this a romance novel, as truthfully, about 95% of the events that take place, are so far removed from what can even be considered ‘romantic’. I was disgusted and appalled by the actions taken by both lead characters, and they become particularly hard to like, especially in the last 10-20% mark in the latter half.

However, as a drama, Magnolia Parks absolutely works. And that is really all there is to say on the matter. Go into this book, should this review compel you to do so, preparing yourself for one of the most out-of-touch dramas you will probably ever read. You’ll thank me for this specific piece of advice.

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