CW: There is an instance of sexual assault towards the end of the book.
Well, colour me pink and call me tickled. This was a read that was worth waiting for. I had squirreled it away in my TBR knowing that the publication date was only in September (HOW are we past September already?!) and past me did present me a real solid in that respect. This is a slightly creaky but charming romantic comedy that had me smiling at the pages.
Olive is a graduate student in the Biology lab at Stanford. She went on a couple dates with Jeremy, a fellow grad student, but there were precisely no sparks. You know who does have sparks with Jeremy? Olive’s best friend: Ahn. In order to convince Ahn that Olive is no longer interested (actually, never was interested) in Jeremy, Olive decides to tell a little lie: Olive has moved on.
Why is this lie so important? Olive wants her best friend to be happy and she knows that Ahn is deeply infatuated with Jeremy, so she tells Ahn that she’s going on a date with someone else. Does Olive expect to see Ahn in the corridor of the bio lab at the exact moment that she is supposed to be on her date? No. What does Olive do? She kisses the first person she sees. And that person is none other than Professor Adam Carlsen.
Here, I need to hit the brakes for a second, on two counts. First, not sure how I feel about just randomly kissing people… so that’s a little iffy for me. Not to mention the graduate student/professor part.
Second, really? This is how she chooses to manage the situation? Olive then compounds the confusion by telling increasingly ludicrous lies to keep Ahn in the dark.
But why is it so important for Olive to convince Ahn that she’s dating? Alas, if you’re looking for solid reasoning, you won’t find it here. If Ahn is her best friend, why can’t they just have a sensible conversation about this? Olive is an orphan and has some heavy baggage around being alone and losing people. This goes some way to explaining her behaviour, but not all the way.
And this is precisely why I call the plot creaky: technically, it’s a fake relationship trope fiesta, but in practise, it was difficult to surrender and buy into the whole thing. As the reader I felt expected to go along with all of Olive’s increasingly bizarre, complicated lies.
What redeemed this book for me? First, for the most part, Olive is familiar and disarming in her awkwardness and insecurity. But far more importantly, the interactions between Adam and Olive charmed my socks off. I was squirreled away under my quilt with numerous cups of tea squeeing with delight whenever these two interacted. The kind of teasing banter that comes with real affection can be difficult to bring into a book, but in this case: FIREWORKS.
The two agree to a fake relationship because Olive needs to keep the lie to Ahn going (still: WHY?) Adam has his own reasons which are a little less tenuous than Olive’s, but the whole thing is really just an excuse for them to be together. And really, once they actually spend time together, the charm factor was so high that I forgot about the flimsy rationales keeping them next to one another.
There are a lot of other things to love about this book, especially the frank discussion of women in STEM that forms part of the backstory. Much of this is set out by Ahn, Olive’s best friend. Their journey as women in STEM and the challenges they face allowed me to look at this issue with fresh eyes.
While the book was enjoyable to read when Olive and Adam were together, the rationale for their fake relationship was pretty dismal and as a reader I found it difficult to accept. Why would it be more important to keep Ahn happy with deceit than for Olive to tell the truth? This is sort of explained, but not really.
Once Adam and Olive start interacting in earnest, then the magic really gets going and I found it much easier to forget about the rickety set-up. If you can suspend your disbelief for the opening chapters, then you can relax into the rest of the book knowing that it will carry you home in splendid fashion.