Cai’s novel takes a different approach toward the city-girl-country-boy trope. With prose that flies at a breakneck speed, Central Places digs deeper than the average romantic comedy into the social anxieties that underlie the characters who populate such stories ... Cai unpacks each layer of complexity with intelligence and sensitivity. In doing so, she paints a sobering portrait of small-town America, not as a place the ambitious and conscientious must flee but as a site of reckoning — between past and present, stereotype and reality, and the differences between those who call it home.
Cai’s debut novel has all the trappings of a breezy rom-com ... But Cai’s novel is decidedly not a rom-com ... With a compassionate lens, Cai’s novel details how disorienting it can be as a young adult to try to meld together the pieces of past and present to build a place for yourself that finally feels like home.