This review was originally posted to The Geeky Waffle and has been reposted with permission.
Never judge a book by it’s cover, but when this particular one made my brain start screaming “Reylo romance novel! Reylo romance novel!” I had to admit that maybe we shouldn’t outright ignore the cover either.
Ali Hazelwood’s debut novel The Love Hypothesis promises all the hallmarks of a good rom-com: fake dating, opposite personalities, forced proximity, all peppered with enough true- to-life scenarios to really ground it.
I am delighted to say it delivers on every single one of these points, and then some, absolutely exceeding my expectations in every possible way.
Stanford PhD candidate Olive Smith has a problem. The guy she was seeing is very interested in her best friend, Anh, and Anh is interested right back. But the girl code prohibits a best friend from making a move on an ex, and so the two pine away.
Olive comes up with a solution. Tell Anh she’s already seeing someone else, to assuage any guilt and allow the new romance to blossom. Her lie nearly blows up in her face when Olive is nearly caught by Anh after hours at her lab when she’s meant to be on a date. In a panic, she runs up to the closest man and kisses him to cover her tracks.
Enter Olive’s new problem. The man she kissed is eternally grumpy Dr. Adam Carlsen, famous for feedback so cutting it makes grad students cry.
Despite Olive apologizing profusely and choosing to pretend it never happened, word spreads quickly that Adam and Olive are an item, and the two enter into a mutually beneficial arrangement to fake-date until the end of September. At that point, Olive hopes that Anh will be comfortably settled in her new relationship. Meanwhile Adam hopes that by proving his commitment to the university – in the form of dating someone who will be around for a few years yet – Stanford will release the portion of his funding they are withholding from him out of fear he’ll leave for another institution.
Fans of Reylo – and Reylo fanfiction in particular – will recognize The Love Hypothesis’ origins as a transformative fan work, as it touches on all the elements you’ll usually find in an AU. It’s peppered throughout the story, from Olive’s voracious sugar-based appetite, to Adam’s high-powered, largely absent parents. In a touch I personally appreciated, the three most prominent relationships in the novel are my Sequel Trilogy holy trinity of ships. For that, I must thank Ali Hazelwood.
While we’re on the fanfiction inspiration for this work, I need to take a moment to talk about the smut. Because holy shit. If I had no idea this was based on a fanfiction, that would have convinced me in a heartbeat and I mean that with the highest possible praise.
Because contemporary romance simply doesn’t do sex scenes like this.
I read a lot of romance. Like, a lot of romance. And books with explicit love scenes tend to follow a specific pattern. The unintentional heart-racing touch. The kiss that is much hotter than either character expected. The first sexual contact. The prolonged sex scene, and then maybe a shorter one after, maybe not.
The Love Hypothesis breaks this pattern by confining all of it to one scene spread out over two chapters. But what a two chapters. It was romantic, and erotic, and sweet all in one. I was left utterly breathless, and eager for anything else Hazelwood might gift romance readers with.
Vaguely connected to this, and very worthy of a mention, is Olive’s candor about her sexuality. Olive is demisexual, and the term is explained once in an internal monologue, and once to Adam. The latter of these scenes literally brought me to tears, because as a demi person, I love seeing a partner so understanding.
The story is, as I mentioned, rich with romantic comedy tropes, and it doesn’t shy away from them. If anything, it leans right into it, with Olive and Adam referring to their relationship as “fake-dating” throughout, and Olive even going so far as to express concern about there only being one bed when the two of them are forced to share a room at a conference. Despite Adam promising he booked a double room, Olive shakes it off by insisting that that doesn’t matter. There’s always only one bed.
In the way that all the best stories do, The Love Hypothesis contains a prominent, real-world throughline about the pitfalls of being a woman in STEM. An offhand comment by Adam towards the beginning of the book winds up having some very serious implications later, but all that does is serve to ground the story. But because this book is such a charming, hopeful read, the very real struggles are offset by the optimistic hope that out there somewhere, there are good people striving to make things just a little better.
The Love Hypothesis was an absolute joy to read. So much so that I read it in one sitting while recovering from eye surgery (don’t yell at me, only my mother can do that). It was a funny, heart-wrenching, romantic read, and I already cannot wait to revisit it.
Also Olive is right and Adam is wrong. Pumpkin Spice is the best.
The Love Hypothesis is out September 14, 2021 and is available for preorder now.
Special thanks to Netgalley and Berkley Romance for the advance copy for review purposes.