I’m bringing you a seriously ranty review today. Figured the best way to start posting irregularly again was to raze one of my most anticipated reads for 2019, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Reader’s Digest of the summary:

Mel is our protagonist. Alex is our love interest and they’re both coders. Mel has been burned on many a Tinder Fluttr dates but she’s certain that true loves exists, so she keeps going on dates. She meets Alex, the cute boy who works in the same building as her, in a chance encounter when they both show up to the same bar for Tinder Fluttr dates. They talk and flirt and then his date shows up while she gets stood up again. This is where their whole relationship starts and they start having lunch dates. During this whole process she makes this website called JerkAlert that lets women rate the men they go on Fluttr dates with, so other women can see if they’re in for an unsolicited dick pick before a date.

I think it’s fine to write a romance, and it’s fine to write a book discussing the inequalities with dude culture and sexism in the tech industry. I work in the tech industry and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There are some days that are not so fun, and there’s some days where people say rude things. But I also think it’s fair to say that this book also gave a narrow view of what IT is. While yes, there is a dude culture, a lot of companies are actively trying to combat that and lots of women have positive experiences in tech. To say that Mel didn’t have ANY positive experiences at her IT job is a little unrealistic. While I have had a lot of bad experiences, I’ve also had a lot of rewarding experiences.

When I was about 50 percent through I got on Goodreads to see how other people felt about the book. I was feeling pretty lukewarm about it at this point. I read this review and I agree with a lot of it. The thing this reviewer pointed out is that, “Alex is a mostly absent character”. Which is a little odd in a romance book. This book attempted to be two things; A conversation about how non-males are treated in tech, and a romance. But now after the book is over, that’s not what I’m left with. I’m left with neither; I didn’t find it a compelling love story—it was quite bland. But the book didn’t have anything novel to say about the tech industry either, which is if you work in the tech industry you are going to have some really infuriating interactions. But I think it’s fair to say that’s true in any industry.

Character development

Anyway, regarding the commentary about the tech industry, in unforeseen and legally questionable circumstances (I’m not a lawyer so I have no idea how this would play out in court), JerkAlert is stolen after getting national attention. Mel has quit has been fired from her job, obtained funding so she can code and continue on her 7-11 diet, networked with some cool women in STEM, and codes a new website to make a comeback. That’s great, and it does show some initiative. But we don’t see what this has to do with her growth as a character other than she doesn’t have to work at a shitty job anymore. But that job was never intregal to her character arc. Mel never was too worried to quit because she didn’t think she was a good enough coder. She didn’t buy into the idea that women couldn’t code. So having a moment where she is getting national attention for something that has nothing to do with the central conflict of the story is weird. It just feels like a weird side plot that got out of control. The whole thing is just so out of place because the central plot of this book is supposed to be the romance. If you don’t like reading romance, that’s totally fine. But if I’m going to read a “romance” book, I’m going to expect that romance is the MAIN thing going on. This just didn’t have it. In fact, I’d argue there wasn’t a central conflict to the book.

In a twist of fate no one in this world could possibly understand, Fluttr ends up offering to buy JerkAlert for X million dollars. But the whole side trip to Fluttr suffers from the same problem as Mel quitting getting fired from her job. It felt lacking in emotional weight because it didn’t serve any purpose. She walks away from the meeting with Fluttr refusing to sell because she believes love is real and these dude bros just don’t get that apps can be used to make real human connections. A sentiment she then immediately discards and is like, “Fuck it, I’ll sell that shit anyway!”. So what was the real reason for having it in the book? It didn’t progress her relationship with Alex, it didn’t help her develop her trust, it didn’t show her that she can have positive interactions in the tech industry, it didn’t progress her person narrative, it didn’t even progress her confidence in herself. I think the saying “if a movie is the same with or without a scene, take it out” applies well here.

While I don’t think the dual concept of romance and commentary on the tech world is an impossible book to write, in this instance, it was not done well enough for me. The book does quite a few things right, and I think there’s some real potential for (Hathaway). There’s a lot of seeds of things I like a lot and I’ll talk about them briefly at the end of the video. But there’s a lot of things I didn’t like, for example how Alex was essentially a love interest that we don’t really get to see. I didn’t feel any emotional connection or chemistry between them so I’m just like, “What separates him from all the other yahoos she’s been going on Fluttr dates with?” Alex is nice and sweet, and I love that in a person; but other than that I’m not sure why Mel would choose him over another nice and sweet person. I’m not really sure what they like to do together other than have sex. They don’t help each other grow or overcome anything. In fact, they don’t really seem to impact each other at all (except to give “really good orgasms” to each other). Frankly, that’s not enough for me to build a relationship off of, and it’s certainly not enough of a resolution for someone who is on dating apps to find “the one”.

The “romance”

The main internal conflict Mel talks about is she has trust issues. She’s been treated badly by a lot of guys in her work and person life. She’s been wronged by a ton of guys on Fluttr from standing up to being harassed with dick pics. Reasonably, yes, she has a reason to mistrust these guys. To top it all off, her dad cheated on her mom and then left for the other woman. She, inherently, has a strong mistrust of men.

Alex is just kind of there, but when he is there his main flaw (at least that I could perceive) is that needs to learn how to stand up to his dude bro coworkers and say something when they’re being sexist dirtbags. He lets comments like “nice one bro, you scored” slide and seems to be ignorant of the blatant sexism Mel experiences. I found it interesting he was ignorant of stuff like that because he’s obviously Hispanic and needless to say, the Tech world supports the male-white agenda. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there as it’s a much more nuanced discussion and it’s not really my place to say. Alex’s other hallmark trait is that he’s a workaholic. He’s always reaching for his phone or his computer and his work is consistently a barrier when Mel or him hang out; this makes Mel noticeably unhappy. Though I can’t help but feel she was way more serious about him that her (their whole relationship occurs in like 2 weeks, then it’s over) le sigh. I digress. Alex is distracted by work and doesn’t focus on her, and this feeds into Mel’s trust issues.

The most irritating thing about this whole situation and set up is that it could have been AMAZING. In great romance books, both characters grow as people. Their different strengths round out the other’s and they teach and learn from each other. In fact, in any good book, the characters grown and learn. In How to Hack a Heartbreak, Mel needs to learn to trust, and Alex works all the time. Alex needs to learn how to stand up to people and Mel has a strong enough personality to feel comfortable teaching him this. This is the perfect set up because they both posses qualities the other so clearly need. At the end of the book, surprise, Alex was working the whole time. Alex was worthy of trust because he was honest all along. But we don’t get that sense of peace or emotional fulfillment when the two get together at the end because the book never communicates Mel learning how to trust. There wasn’t any particular reason why Mel decided to trust Alex other than she, for lack of a better term, “lost” him. And that is not character development.

Seldom is trust a light switch that can be turned on and off. If Mel was given a series of events that required her to learn to trust, it would make much more sense that she had come to trust him at the end of the book. And you can argue that she gave him the benefit of the doubt—but I’d argue that she doesn’t really do that. Even when she was telling herself to trust him, she found reasons to mistrust him. From when their plans for a date fell through, to her overhearing conversations. But in the end she only kind of learns to trust Alex, she doesn’t learn to trust.

In conclusion

I had really high hopes for this book. I was excited to read a book about a woman in tech and the idea of her coding a website makes for a unique backdrop to a romance book. I think the overall growth of the characters was significantly lacking. In the end, this book didn’t make me feel hope or happiness for either of the characters. More like, I was just like, “Well they’re together?” ¯\_(-_-)_/¯. While it may seem there wasn’t anything I did enjoy in the book, I did enjoy some aspects of it.

  • How Mel’s app got all the attention seems a lot more realistic than how other plots come about in novels. Her very good friend works for a high profile (I’m guessing) PR firm so it’s very plausible how work of mouth could travel and how she ended up at Fluttr in the first place.
  • Good side characters: I love Whitney and Victoria. They are gems. I’d love to read a book about Victoria and Ray—they had a much more interesting love story than Mel and Alex.
  • The author did make Alex “untrustworthiness” seem believable. I just felt like all the conversations they had were very sterile. They were kind of at arms length and didn’t give us the basis a relationship. All his words were kind of like words and phrases you see on a greeting card; generic platitudes. I was suspicious of him from the very beginning. So I mean A+ for execution, F for making him a good love interest. I kept waiting for another love interest to appear but by the time I got 27 percent I realized he I was here for the long haul. 

Rando note:

To the author’s credit, Mel does recognize that she makes excuse after excuse that she’s not really comfortable making and then decides to truly give Alex the benefit of the doubt. But we live much too much in Mel’s head for this to be convincing. She has a strong sense of self-awareness, but not enough that she can simply tell herself to trust Alex and make it that easy.

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