Published by Little Brown Books on June 13, 2023
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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Rival physicists collide in a vortex of academic feuds and fake dating shenanigans in this delightfully STEMinist romcom from the New York Times bestselling author of The Love Hypothesis and Love on the Brain.
The many lives of theoretical physicist Elsie Hannaway have finally caught up with her. By day, she’s an adjunct professor, toiling away at grading labs and teaching thermodynamics in the hopes of landing tenure. By other day, Elsie makes up for her non-existent paycheck by offering her services as a fake girlfriend, tapping into her expertly honed people pleasing skills to embody whichever version of herself the client needs.
Honestly, it’s a pretty sweet gig—until her carefully constructed Elsie-verse comes crashing down. Because Jack Smith, the annoyingly attractive and broody older brother of her favorite client, turns out to be the cold-hearted experimental physicist who ruined her mentor’s career and undermined the reputation of theorists everywhere. And that same Jack who now sits on the hiring committee at MIT, right between Elsie and her dream job.
Elsie is prepared for an all-out war of scholarly sabotage but…those long, penetrating looks? Not having to be anything other than her true self when she’s with him? Will falling into an experimentalist’s orbit finally tempt her to put her most guarded theories on love into practice?
Ali Hazelwood is desperately trying to become one of my new favorite authors, and…it’s working. Her stories are amazing.
Elsie Hannaway absolutely loathes adjunct teaching, but she pretends, for her mentor, that she is thrilled to be teaching basic science classes to students who can barely show up to class. Not only does it suck, but in order to pay her bills, Elsie needs to teach like three…four…thousand of these classes. Even that isn’t enough if she also wants to eat and pay for her insulin, so Elsie has a side hustle as a Faux-girlfriend for hire for the last few years. It’s not a bad gig, aside from those few clients who don’t understand the difference between Faux-girlfriend and paid “escort.” Elsie’s always had the ability to figure out exactly who someone wants her to be and morph into that girl, which makes it easy to come off as the perfect girlfriend.
Her biggest problem lately is the fact that Elsie’s current “boyfriend” has a brother that obviously loathes her, since he’s always watching her, and who keeps asking pretty probing questions about her relationship with his brother. He also has an uncanny ability to see through Elsie’s faux personalities which is really irritating since Jack is the one person who she can’t read herself.
But Elsie’s luck might be about to change when she is asked to come to MIT for a final interview. It is down to her and one other candidate and she thinks she has what it takes to land this job. Just as she she begins to fantasize about teaching real physics to students who actually care and also having free time for her own research and, wait for it, actual medical insurance, in walks the bane of her current existence, Jack Smith. Jack Smith, who hates Elsie and who now knows for certain that Elsie isn’t the librarian she has been telling his family for the last month. Jack Smith, who is on the committee to determine if Elsie will get her dream job. Yikes!
I have to confess that some some of the things in her women of STEM stories goes over my head but I am having so much fun with these stories that I just don’t care that I suddenly become the stupidest person in the room. I absolutely love the characters she has created and the stories they have to tell.
Of course, right of the start Jack is giving me those Mr Darcy vibes. He is always watching Elsie and he knows when she is being false and when the real Elsie pops up. Of course, Elsie thinks that he just wants to criticize her at every opportunity, but we can see how much they like to debate and challenge each other since there are few people around as smart as both of them.
I was so stressed that Elsie would do something to topple this fragile romance. Initially, she believes that Jack doesn’t like her, so she doesn’t like him back, but there is also a very large conflict of interest between Elsie’s mentor and Jack. Of course, since her mentor took her under his wing when it seems no one else would, she is very conflicted about her growing attraction to Jack. But, as Jack tries to point out, why would someone as smart as Elsie have a problem getting a real teaching position unless her mentor is more interested in keeping Elsie working for him rather than working to help Elsie achieve her own success.
I love how Ali Hazelwood points the spotlight on the trials and tribulations of women in STEM and while there are more and more women joining the ranks, it is more a trickle than a flood and the women in STEM are still battling against centuries of misogyny for acceptance and for their ideas to be heard.
Ali Hazelwood is definitely a new author to put on your TBR list and I would recommend you pick any one of her stories to get started.
“This is a comfortable chair.” I lean back, mimicking his pose. I’m not intimidated. You’re not intimidated. We’re both unintimidated.
“I slept in it once, after a forty-eight-hour experiment.”
“I’m not going to fall asleep.”
“Yeah. And you could take out a permanent marker and scribble something on my forehead.”
His head tilts. “What would I scribble?”
I shrug. “Do not hire? ‘Albert Einstein sux’? ‘I hate theorists.’?”
He steeples his hands. “Is that what you think? That I hate theorists?” He finds me amusing. Or boring. Or pitiful. Or a mix. I wish I could tell, but I shall die in ignorance.
“Your students sure seem to.”
“And you think I’m the reason?” He sound genuinely puzzled by that. The audacity.
He shrugs. “You’re discounting a simpler explanation: students interested in experimental physics are both more likely to have preconceived notions about theory and more likely to choose to take a class taught by me. Correlation does not equal causation.”
“Of course.” I smile politely. I’m calm. Still calm. “I’m sure the fact that someone they look up to–you–notoriously hates theorists has no impact on their view of the discipline.”
“Do I?” His head tilts. “Notoriously hate theorists? I regularly collaborate with them. Respect their work. Admire several.”
“You.” He pins me with his stupid, hyper-seeing look. “You are very impressive, Elsie.”
My stomach flips, even though I know he’s lying. I just…didn’t expect this specific lie. “I doubt you know anything about my work.”
“I’ve read every word you’ve written.” He looks serious, but he must be mocking me.
What do I do? Mock back. “Did you enjoy my middle school diary?”
A hint of a crinkle appears at the corner of his eyes. “It was a little Justin Beiber heavy.”
“You broke into the wrong childhood bedroom–I was all about Bill Nye.”
His mouth twitches. “One of the popular kids, were you?”
“Not to brag, but I also played the tuba in the marching band.”
“Lots of competition, I bet.” He has a dimple. Only one. Ugh.
“Tons. But I had an in. Through the D&D Club.”
His laugh is soft. Relaxed. Lopsided. Different from the unyielding expression I’ve come to expect from him. Even more breaking news: I’m smiling too. Yikes.