The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood Contemporary Romance September 14, 2021 by Berkley Books Reviewed by Kate
The Love Hypothesis is mostly a charming book. There is so much to love about it. Olive and Adam are adorable together, and the fake-dating plot was perfect. Olive’s friends are amazing and I enjoyed the banter all around. The writing is great, and I breezed through it in one sitting. But while I would very much like to overlook my problems with it for the cuteness, it feels disingenuous to skim over what I feel is a very significant issue with the plotting of the book.
Slightly past halfway through the book, Olive is sexually harassed, and that incident becomes a catalyst for the rest of the plot. My issue is that I do not feel that it was handled in a way that made sense for the characters or provided any real closure afterwards. Unfortunately, it’s a bit difficult for me to talk about why I don’t believe this worked without giving specific details, so feel free to skip the next couple paragraphs if you’re concerned about spoilers.
Olive is sexually harassed by a colleague (Tom) of her fake boyfriend (Adam). After the incident, she’s concerned about two things if she tells Adam: that he won’t believe that Tom harassed her, or if Adam does believe her, he will be forced to give up a project he is working on with Tom, that he is very excited about. So she resolves not to tell him, and ends their “relationship” (which had become a bit more like a relationship, as you do in a fake-dating romance novel).
Shortly after that, Olive’s friends overhear the recording she has of the incident, and they convince her she needs to tell Adam, which she does, and then within a day or so, (after Tom is fired) Olive is basically confessing her love to Adam and they are all of a sudden real dating.
This secondary sequence of events is what I had a hard time with. First, she decided to not tell Adam due to her concerns about his reaction, but then she is convinced to tell him because of her friends, not because she has any realization about him/their relationship that would lead her to trust that he would believe her. Then, once she does tell him, they barely have a conversation about the repercussions or Adam’s feelings about the situation before they confess their feelings for each other and move on. It all happens quickly and is wrapped up easily.
As a result of all that, it feels like Olive is being swept along by the plot, with no agency of her own, and while there are a lot of things that I will put up with because “romance reasons,” the aftermath of sexual harassment isn’t one of them. Especially because I have a hard time reconciling Olive’s decision to not say anything with her decision to date Adam at the end. She goes so quickly from not trusting him to deciding to be in a relationship with him that I almost got whiplash. It didn’t seem reasonable for her character to have that complete 180 in such a short period of time.
Overall, it felt like the sexual harassment plotline was written in as an easy way to create a Very Serious Conflict. And I just don’t think it was necessary. In the hands of a skilled writer, even the tiniest possible conflict can be written such that the reader is convinced of its importance to the characters’ lives and relationship. I can think of many other conflicts for this book, including but not limited to: Adam’s perceived or real power over Olive’s career, Olive’s issues believing people will stick around after a lifetime of not having that, the fact that they were lying to all of their friends for months about their relationship, Adam being a demanding asshole to every other grad student or Adam’s possible move across the country. I have read romance novels where characters had a third act breakup for less than that last reason, for example. I do not believe we need to traumatize our romance heroines (or trigger readers who weren’t given a heads up) for the sake of causing conflict.
I know many people really enjoyed The Love Hypothesis, and I certainly did until about 65% in. It’s possible that because the situation with the sexual harassment is written in such an over-the-top way (it did feel a little like somebody took an HR manual on “How not to sexually harass” and included every example of what to avoid) that maybe it didn’t land for other readers in the same way it landed for me, but I am honestly frustrated with how it ended after such an amazing beginning. Maybe if I had been aware of what was going to happen, it would not have bothered me so much, but there were no indications that the book was going to take the turn it did.
I want so hard to like this book, and as I said, I think there is a lot to like, but I cannot recommend it without reservations. I look forward to seeing what Hazelwood does next.
CW: Sexual harassment with some unwanted physical contact, Olive’s mother died of pancreatic cancer prior to the events of the book.