The Hating Game: Sally Thorne

So, surprise surprise! This isn’t YA fiction. I guess I’d classify it for adults. Also… it’s a romance novel. (・□・;)
I don’t read romance novels, usually. They aren’t a genre that I enjoy, plus I will freely confess that I am a squeamish person and while I can be clinical about sexual health and education, I hate hate hate sex/arousal scenes in media. They make me super uncomfortable. I can appreciate that a lot of other people enjoy them, but it’s not my thing at all.

So, then, Pratyu, you dummy. Why did you pick up this book? I totally judged a book by its cover, that’s why. It’s because the Goodreads algorithm suggested it to me, and I thought it was a slice of life book about a girl fighting for a promotion in her publishing company. Turns out that the person she’s competing against is the irresistible Joshua Templeton, a golden-skinned, dark-haired, dusky-eyed heart-throb.
I would have been really condescending towards this book, which follows a lot of romantic tropes, but it’s actually very progressive for the genre. That’s why I went ahead and tried to read until the end, though I skipped like 75% of the book because it was graphic arousal-and-sexual-tension stuff. It got even worse towards the finale, with the graphic scenes. Even the kisses went on for like a page and a half… yeah, there was stuff that I ignored entirely, but I don’t think it detracted from my overall understanding of the plot.

I really like Lucy Hutton, the protagonist. She’s funny (“Want a phone book to sit on? How’d you get so small?” / “I shrank in the wash.”) and excitable, and a bit immature. She collects Smurf dolls. She would be dangerously toeing the line of manic-pixie-dream-girl, but she doesn’t have the air of pretentiousness that those characters lean towards. Lucy’s really stubborn and says way too much– she really should think before she speaks– but for all intents and purposes, her introspection reads easily. Maybe that’s why I like her, because she’s honestly a very simple person. She enjoys food. Books. She wants to work hard and be as cool as her boss one day. Her biggest fault lies in the fact that she’s a bit of a doormat because she wants to make everyone happy.

Also, she’s very self aware: “Immediately, I give myself a little mental slap. Fishing for compliments is a cardinal sin.”

There are sappy parts of the book where Lucy starts to pore over the details of Joshua, like his eyes and his hands and his freckles and all of that stuff. It’s pretty cute; her intentions are entirely innocent. She’s just admiring this person that she believes is the most handsome man that she’s ever seen. She genuinely wants to make him feel good about himself, and she wants to appreciate his beauty. It came off as very sweet and further drives how sincere she is in everything she thinks and does.

Joshua Templeton is a bit more difficult to pin down as a character. I can’t bring myself to fully like him because he’s sort of the embodiment of toxic masculinity. He’s this big, powerful manly guy, who’s so scary and intimidating that it’s mentioned once or twice in every few chapters. ((But his name is Joshua. lmao))
I don’t want to deride him for perpetuating what I believe to be a stereotype. In fact, I write in my own time, and I have a few characters– actually, a lot– that are just as hyper-masculine. So it’d be hypocritical of me to be such a harsh judge.
I’m going to try to examine him with a positive bias. Aside from his strapping macho beefcake aesthetic, he’s got a softer part to him. Which is also kind of cliche, now that I think about it. He’s not a bad character, just emotionally obstructed and with probably an entire tree up his ass, what with the businesslike, cutting, frowny-no-man tendencies. He’s also got territorial issues– when a guy named Danny starts displaying interest in Lucy, he gets all growly and back-off with him, and just becomes a jerk in general, which I didn’t really like.
Around Lucy, when they start opening up to each other more, he finds himself constantly surprised by her lack of a filter. Also, I think that her constant compliments make him a bit shy, which is funny. He’s an asshole to everyone but he tries hard to be nice to her, though he ends up offending Lucy a few times– but she grows from the experiences. For example, when he claims in front of his boss that he won’t need help beating her (sometime after they’ve established their interest in each other); she’s crushed that he still doesn’t consider her to be a worthy opponent. Joshua tries to recant his words but she’s hurt for a while, until she decides to stop wallowing in self-pity and get her act together and show him just how much he’s underestimated her. I like that about Lucy. “Don’t get mad, get even.”

Another small thing that I liked– Lucy isn’t this slender, tall, supermodel person. She’s small and (I imagine) plump. She eats a lot, and she enjoys what she eats. In the book, near the wedding, she puts on support underwear “to smooth out any lumps,” and it’s refreshing to read. Although in retrospect… when I first read that line I thought it was maybe a body-positivity thing, but later she takes her dress off and the support underwear is described as like sexy lingerie, so maybe the author was just setting up for a sex scene… :’-) aw man. Totally misconstrued that.
Half the book is sex & arousal & romance; a quarter of it is them hating each other; and the last quarter is Lucy fawning over food.

An interesting thing about Joshua is that he’s been objectified in most of his relationships. This presents an actual problem in his life: he’s handsome, but with the personality of an angry dish-rag. This takes a toll on his sense of self-worth, and he starts wondering if maybe he isn’t meant to be end-game for anyone. Maybe he’s just the fun, one-night stand. The mysterious bad-boy who’s good for a few months of wild, sex-filled passion, before moving onto husband material. His self esteem, by the time he meets Lucy, is nearing rock-bottom.
Lucy’s guilty of objectifying him too– she tells him, constantly, about how hot he is and all of that stuff, and he confesses to her later on in the book about how he’s unfamiliar with anyone wanting him for more than a good time. I thought that this was an interesting reversal of the common “pretty-woman” trope, where the hot chick is only ever sought after because… she’s hot. Anyways, Lucy makes it a point to stop being so creepily and obviously carnal around him, which I think is beneficial to their relationship. It helps Joshua understand that she’s not after him for the same reasons.

Also, it’s revealed that he’s very shy towards the end of the book. Up until now we think that he’s mean to strangers because he’s just an ass by nature, but Lucy realizes while giving him a long diatribe about how rude he’s being at his elder brother’s wedding that he’s actually a very awkward person. He’s not “shy and soft,” he’s “shy and covered in military-grade armor.” or something like that. It was an example of good labeling by the author; usually I encourage allowing the reader to think for themselves, but in this case, Lucy affirms our beliefs. Also, it’s funny that rather than painting him as a stoic, Ms. Thorne reveals that he’s just a bit demure.

It got harder to read towards the end because there was so much yeah. They were falling in love and there was even an entire chapter that was just a sex scene, and then most of the end was a sex scene. I was skimming through their dialogue to figure out what happened with the promotion situation, and I think I caught something like Joshua had accepted a position at a different company– which was kind of disappointing. I wanted to see who would win, but oh well. It was a good way to save their relationship and keep him in a high-ranking job. Verryyyy convenient.

Also, there were hints of a love triangle but they were avoided; that tension only came up once or twice during the book. Lucy has another suitor, Danny, from graphic design, and he pisses Joshua off. Actually, Joshua’s like a rabid raccoon when it comes to Danny; hissing and spitting. It’s kind of off-putting. But Lucy likes it, so whatever, I guess. And she’s not interested in Danny after confirming that Joshua likes her, and she didn’t date him to spite Joshua– she did it because she made up a whole thing about having a date and was worried that he’d tease her if he found out that she was lying, so she roped Danny into this mess. Poor Danny, though, the guy spends a Saturday working on a project for her and Joshua chews him out on the phone (though I guess he was being a little creepy– “What are you wearing?” and so on, so maybe J was justified.)
There’s a kind of weird part where Joshua’s like “I want you to kiss Danny and tell me which one of us was better,” which… I don’t really know if that was supposed to be a sexy thing? Or if he was just feeling competitive? Or if his ego needed stroking? But that was bizarre. I mean, don’t take my word for it, I found a lot of this book bizarre.
Then there was Mindy, who was shoehorned in at the end to introduce jealousy on Lucy’s part. Mindy’s the tall, tanned blonde of Joshua’s dreams– supposedly. And she’s marrying his older brother. Lucy is rightfully appalled at the fact that Josh brought her as his date, to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. That was a screw-up of abysmal proportions but they talk it out and it’s fine, and it’s okay in my opinion because the love triangle mess only lasts for like, a chapter.

Man. I’m realizing now that maybe I’m just generally terrible at romance. That would explain a lot, actually, ahaha. ٩(͡๏̯͡๏)۶

I said earlier that this book is progressive for the romance genre, but I think that’s a rash statement on my behalf, because as I said before, I haven’t read that many of its books. It’s not fair of me to judge these stories harshly just because they’re romance novels; they have their own merits. So I’m going to say that it was progressive, in general.
I thought that the story was good, though I missed out on a lot of it… haha. I’m loathe to give it a numerical ranking because I don’t really have any idea what to compare this book to. I guess that if you’re into romance, you could check it out– but if you’re a prude like me, it might be too much :’-)

This was the author’s debut novel so I want to take a moment to appreciate her writing style: it flowed together, there was a lot of internal monologue, and it never felt like she was stalling the story. There were a lot of situations that seemed weird to me, and like they were too timely to be coincidence, but I mean… it’s a romance novel. It had to have some of those situations, like oh no, this hotel has no more rooms so we’re stuck together. So I guess that it’s appropriate for the genre.

All in all… I personally wouldn’t recommend this book. I’d feel weird doing so, to any of my friends. But if you like romance novels, then I would say that it’s not a bad one to read. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s progressive and the characters are multifaceted. Josh is still kind of a caricature, but he’s okay as far as love-interests go… even in YA fiction, you’ve got the broody bad boy. Except he’s not actually a bad boy, I guess; he’s the number-crunching assistant to the CEO of a publishing company. So the furthest thing from a bad boy.

Anyways, I don’t think I wasted my time reading this book, as I felt after trying out The Golden Braid or Hotel Ruby, so it was a fairly successful endeavor. I wish I hadn’t skipped so much of it but… yeah.
I hope I helped someone out with this review, LOL. Happy reading!

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