Honestly, I don’t know why I read this book. I didn’t particularly like The Love Hypothesis, but I saw promise in Ali’s writing, and it was a runaway bestseller, so when an ARC arrived and I had a free afternoon I figured, eh, why not?
From the publisher marketing:
Like an avenging, purple-haired Jedi bringing balance to the mansplained universe, Bee Königswasser lives by a simple code: What would Marie Curie do? If NASA offered her the lead on a neuroengineering project–a literal dream come true after years scraping by on the crumbs of academia–Marie would accept without hesitation. Duh. But the mother of modern physics never had to co-lead with Levi Ward.
Sure, Levi is attractive in a tall, dark, and piercing-eyes kind of way. And sure, he caught her in his powerfully corded arms like a romance novel hero when she accidentally damseled in distress on her first day in the lab. But Levi made his feelings toward Bee very clear in grad school–archenemies work best employed in their own galaxies far, far away.
Now, her equipment is missing, the staff is ignoring her, and Bee finds her floundering career in somewhat of a pickle. Perhaps it’s her occipital cortex playing tricks on her, but Bee could swear she can see Levi softening into an ally, backing her plays, seconding her ideas…devouring her with those eyes. And the possibilities have all her neurons firing. But when it comes time to actually make a move and put her heart on the line, there’s only one question that matters: What will Bee Königswasser do?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a community of women trying to mind their own business must be in want of a random man’s opinion.
Ugh. Fair warning now, rant incoming. Skip four paragraphs if you don’t want to read my ranting.
I feel like I could copy-paste my review of The Love Hypothesis here and just change the names around. Bee is… annoying. Levi is a lovesick puppy, and once again, this book only marginally and certainly debatably passes the Bechdel test. Which I’m really struggling to understand here. Ali gives her main female characters a ton of agency and cool jobs and awesome friends, but they don’t ever talk about those awesome things, they just talk about the dude. Who once again looks like Adam Driver. At this point, I get it. Essentially, this book is full of missed and obvious opportunities to make it better.
Also, Bee is a neuroscientist, not a chemist or physicist. I love Marie Curie, believe me I do, but there are a ton of other female scientists who were marginalized throughout history for being women in a STEM field. Please, can we use this opportunity to introduce the readers to another scientist? Also, I get NASA is in Houston, but in the world we live in right now, Texas is not female-friendly. They’re not. I try to keep my politics (mostly) to myself, but yes, I’m a bleeding heart liberal and I’m not about to venture to Texas until they acknowledge half their population is female and give them the rights and access they deserve. Why am I particularly upset here?
I really appreciate that Ali’s characters in both Love on the Brain and The Love Hypothesis have conversations about birth control. I applaud that, and loudly cheer. If your books are being read primarily by the youngest generation of adults, I believe you have a responsibility to show them responsibility. So my issue here is that there is a conversation regarding forgoing a secondary method of birth control between the couple who is just casually dating… in Texas. All birth control has a percentage of failure. Abortion is next to illegal in Texas. Medical complications from getting pregnant with an IUD are not insignificant. I’ve been thinking for months (I read Love on the Brain in February) about how upset I am with this conversation. To the point that I reached out directly to Berkley through our Penguin sales rep to voice my discomfort with it.
Whether you agree or disagree with me, given the state of the world right now, particularly here in the US, I have a very hard time being completely okay with how that conversation was depicted. I almost threw it across the room when I got it, but that’s my hill that I choose to die on, so this probably won’t bother you as much, but it bothered me so there we are, I’ve said my piece.
Rant over, resume here if you wanted to skip all that, here’s the laundry list of things I actually did like.
I do, admittedly, really love the You’ve Got Mail inspiration, it is one of my all time favorite films and inspired me to start shopping, and then working, at independent bookstores. Bee and Levi are cute together and I do like their relationship. There is a Twitter scandal that one can see coming from the beginning of the book, but that’s okay. The finale feels a bit trope-y, I didn’t see it coming here but did read a nearly identical ending in Portrait of a Scotsman, but I do think that’s a coincidence. Yes, there is still a miscommunication, but it’s not as significant as the one in The Love Hypothesis and the sex scenes are far less cringe then they are in that one as well, so points there. As a Pitt alum I was delighted that Levi & Bee both went to grad school there, and I love the cats. I’m a cat person, you put a cat in, I will love it. And while there is a lot of misogyny in STEM fields, I feel like that’s really starting to change and I would have loved to see a few more supportive dudes over just Levi.
At the end of the day, if you like The Love Hypothesis, read this one, you’ll like it. If you read it and felt as meh as I did, skip this one. It’s essentially the same book with some slight changes, and a few more woman to woman conversations that don’t entirely revolve around the male love interest.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through BookShop or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.