This book took Romance Goodreads by storm when it first popped up, and I understand why. It’s an imaginative twist on the rom-com, hate to love, romance novel that we’re used to. It’s not about two people pining for each other, desperate to know if the other person likes them or two people hating each other and then slowly find out they like each other and start dating to the surprise of all their friends/ coworkers/ family. No, these people are already dating, in fact they’re engaged. So how is this going to work? Why is it a hate to love? The intrigue, the mystery, the excitement!
The book starts off with Naomi and Nicholas, a cute couple in a small town. Nicholas, a dentist who is obsessed with sugar, Naomi, works in a kitschy store called the Junkyard and loves it. What she doesn’t love, or at least not 100% is Nicholas. And she lets you know this. We learn quickly everything that Nicholas does that pisses her off, annoys her, or makes her go, “Why am I marrying this man?” A big part of what is making her so unhappy about her looming nuptials, her mother in law, Deborah. Naomi wants out. She wants to no longer be with Nicholas at all. So instead of being saddled with fees for things that Deborah has purchased for their wedding, she decides to be so abhorrent that Nicholas will break up with her.
Now, I’m going to have to be very upfront with you about this book. The first half, and I truly mean the first 50% of this book, I hated. Naomi is horrible, rude, selfish, completely incapable of empathy, and me want to give up on this book 3 chapters in. You would think that Nicholas’ behavior, something that Naomi is deeming so awful as to barely love him and want to separate from him for, would justify her behavior and feelings… it really doesn’t. Nicholas’ actions aren’t perfect, don’t get me wrong, but reading them, looking at them from the outside in, they just seem like he’s frustrated with Naomi and is trying to connect with her or do something she wants. And Naomi just overreacts to them and assumes the worst in him.
As you move closer to the middle, Naomi stops being The Worst instead she is Almost The Worst, and I found myself saying, out loud mind you and everyone is home right now because of quarantine so I know my neighbors heard me, “What is wrong with straight people? What is actually wrong with straight people. Do they really just act like this???” I was repeating this a lot.
The thing is though, past the half way point, around the 60% mark, this turned into a completely different book. Naomi became vulnerable and relatable. She was no longer vile and vindictive. Was she annoying? Yeah for sure. There’s a scene with a car that made me want to rip my hair out (I’m trying to grow it out so I had to resist). But their story became charming and sweet and full of working, like actual hard work, at their relationship. Trying to understand each other and learn about the other person. It was amazing to read a story about two people who cared for each other work at their relationship and work at their connection. I wish the whole book was like that because the way I feel about this half of the book is like five stars; the first half… not so much.
Deborah is a monster-in-law if I’ve ever seen one and I think she was written really well. Constantly degrading and picking on Naomi, constantly invading Nicholas and Naomi’s space, inserting her opinions as fact and demanding people abide by them. She’s awful, straight up. Her existence to the story is crucial because so much relies on her being ferociously vile and causing tension between our two lovebirds.
I don’t know how to share this book! Do I want people to read it? Of course, I always want people to read books, and I especially want them to read the second half of this book. But I don’t necessarily want people to trudge through the first half like I did. So I’ll say this, some people are not as bothered by Naomi as I am so there’s a good chance that you won’t be either. If you’re reading this as an audiobook, it’ll be easier to get through the tough part because you have someone going along whether you’re super into it or not; the book is harder to put down. If you really don’t care about the whole story overall, you can always just go to the fifty percent mark and start the story from there. I don’t know, man, this is a weird one for me.
I applaud Sarah Hogle for really trying to change up the game in the romance novel and, really honestly, I am excited to see what her next novel will be like. Hopefully more of it will be like the end of this book. It came out on April 7th so check your library’s digital content providers, check any other apps that you use for reading or listening to books, purchase from an indie bookstore, and give this one a go.