TW for book: Disordered eating
The Worst Guy was the first book I read in 2022, and I hope it’s setting the tone for the rest of the year because I loved it. It’s an enemies-to-lovers story with tons of competence porn. It’s also The Grumpy One/…the Introverted One, I guess? There’s no sunshine here, and I honestly appreciate a heroine who doesn’t have to be the sunshiney one.
Sebastian Stremmel is a trauma surgeon and curmudgeon. He knows he’s often grumpy, and he’s not apologetic about it. I want to make it clear here that while curmudgeonly, Sebastian is never abusive or cruel and I think that’s a really important distinction. Sara Shapiro is a plastic surgeon at the same hospital. One day she and Sebastian get into a heated argument over the fact that he put a staple in a trauma patient’s face (which she now needs to repair) and during the course of the argument they accidentally destroy an exam room (it is a freak accident, no one is violent here).
It looks real bad though and as part of their reprimand they need to see a therapist together to work on why they can’t work together effectively (which puts them in forced proximity situations). They argue constantly, sparring with banter and insults. They get under each other’s skin. Inevitably they wind up having incredible hate-sex.
There were a lot of reasons I loved this book, the first being that I love Sara’s character. Usually The Grumpy One hero is paired up with an overly perky, Pollyanna-ish Sunshiney Heroine. Sara is not this at all. This is how she describes herself:
I was really good at my job, yet stupid old imposter syndrome kicked my ass on the daily.
I was scrappy as fuck and more delicate than anyone had the right to be.
I was vain as hell yet bristled at being judged on my appearance first, my surgical pedigree second.
I swore fluently and often.
I came across as inconsistent and moody. Hot and cold.
I was thirty-nine years old and a pickier eater than most toddlers. That, plus a chronic list of digestive issues meant no one could take me anywhere–but don’t even think about not inviting me.
I like that Sara is consistent and complicated. At one point she says about herself “I came by the mess honestly,” and I think being able to identify yourself as kind of a mess sometimes is powerful. I too exist on a spectrum where I have to be a ball-busting bitch at work, but often feel exceptionally emotionally fragile when at home. None of us are just one thing.
Sara mentions being a picky eater, and I want to discuss that aspect of the book. She has a reputation at the hospital for being aloof. Even Sebastian has more friends than she does, and tries to integrate her into his friend group (once he realizes he doesn’t hate her at all).
Sara is recovering from bulimia and she has lingering medical issues from suffering with an eating disorder for twenty years (gastroparesis, irritable bowel, acid reflux). She has to be very careful about how and what she eats, which means going to dinner parties and restaurants can be complicated. She doesn’t want to disclose her ED to her peers because she knows that female surgeons are held to a different standard than male ones.
As the novel progresses we see that, just as Sara’s introverted nature is a protective mechanism, so is Sebastian’s grumpiness. Once he realizes he can let Sara into his small, core group of trusted people, he reveals himself to be funny, charming and vulnerable. Both he and Sara have a lot of hurt in their past, and with the help of their therapist they make strides to be able to share that pain and how it’s affected them. Yay for positive therapy representation!
Then there is the competence porn. There is so much detail about the operations of various surgical departments, not to mention hospital politics that it made the book feel incredibly real. Both Sebastian and Sara are devoted to their professions, and the level of detail this book provided made me feel like I was working alongside them.
Overall, The Worst Guy has a troubled hero and heroine who are wonderfully imperfect and have a lot of issues to resolve. They do resolve them in a satisfying way while having incredible “you drive me up a wall” sex. Add to that a realistic depiction of their profession and a heroine who isn’t afraid to be “a mess,” and you had a book that really worked for me.