Friday, March 10, 2023

Love on the Brain by Ali Hazelwood


The woman, the myth, the legend: Ali Hazelwood is one of those authors that, like Colleen Hoover and Sarah J. Maas, people either love or hate. With passion. Which obviously makes me wonder what the heck she was putting in her books to make people solidly Team Yuck or Team Yum. With passion. Finally, one of her books went on sale-- and, of course, it wasn't THE book, THE LOVE HYPOTHESIS. No, it was this other book: LOVE ON THE BRAIN.*

*Note: I actually thought that the guy on this cover was the same guy as the guy on the first cover, and that he'd ditched the heroine from the first book and moved on to some purple haired wench and I was like, WELL, THAT'S GUTSY. But no. Different guy.

After finishing this book, I have a LOT of THOUGHTS. And as I do with a lot of hyped books, I've decided to bullet point my likes and dislikes because I am nothing if not organized (JK, this is a lie) and it helps me substantiate my already wishy-washy rating system.

πŸ‘ Heroines in STEM.
As someone who works in STEM, it's honestly so great to see more female characters-- especially in romance novels-- with jobs that they feel passionately about, which were (and still are!) typically thought of as careers for men. Ask someone to draw a doctor, and they usually draw you a dude. But I feel like having media like this throws a wrench in the infrastructural sexism gears, and also inspires women and young girls to pursue careers in math, science, tech, and engineering.
πŸ‘ We stan a beta cinnamon roll hero of a man. Levi was actually really sweet. Well, once you got to know him. In the beginning of the book, I was like HOW ARE YOU GOING TO REDEEM THIS FOOL? But the author then proceeded to do a lot of legwork doing exactly that, and I was like, "Well, okay, I guess I'll allow this."  If Disney had a vegan doctor as a prince, Levi would be that prince.
πŸ‘ All that neuroscience stuff.
I majored in psychology, which is basically neuroscience's lazy older sister. I even took some intro neuroanatomy and neuroscience courses as part of my upper division requirements (and I worked in a research lab-- briefly!). So this was fun.
πŸ‘ The writing was actually, mostly, decent?
I don't know, based on what some people were saying, I was expecting Fifty Shades of Wattpad. But this was pretty breezy and easy to read. I finished it in just a few hours, even though it's almost 400 pages.

πŸ‘ Rocio and Kay.
Who knew that I'd ship Wednesday Addams and Elle Woods together as a sapphic couple? Not me. But it totally works.

The size kink. I did not need to hear how ridiculously-big-huge-too-freakishly-tall-for-space Levi was and how teeny-tiny-carry-her-in-your-pocket-smol Bee was every other page. Every time she sees him, she's just like HUGE. It was honestly ridiculous. I think part of the reason this sort of fetishizing annoys me is that it's skewed towards small/petite women only, and feels like it's propagating the stereotype that women have to be small and dainty and feminine to be worthy or beautiful. To illustrate how ridiculous this sort of pairing is, visually, I'm almost six feet tall. So I'd have to be with a dude who's like 7ft taller or higher to achieve this vibe.
πŸ‘Ž Bee is like a walking Tumblr meme after it's had three Red Bulls. Look, I'm feminist, I'm liberal, I care about social issues. I'm a bit of a walking stereotype. But OH MY GOD. Bee IS the stereotype, wearing dyed pink hair. She felt like a meme of a person. Like a Meg Cabot character if it had gone to UC Berkeley. She was just too twee and it was way too much. Also, WHY are her only hobbies fangirling about Marie Curie, hating on men for not letting women science, and being vegan? She's obnoxious about all three of these things, btw. Especially the vegan one. Yikes.
πŸ‘Ž La Llorona. I'm still not sure what the deal with this was.
πŸ‘Ž Everything sucks and is on fire when you're a woman in STEM. It's so weird that these books are being branded as STEMinist and hailed for being uplifting because literally all the dudes in this book were SO AWFUL to Bee except Levi (and even he was awful at first). The lab did not feel at all fun and I feel like Bee's passion for neuroscience was often obscured by the frustration she felt at her work environment and co-workers. Which is valid but also kind of miserable.

As for the things that I feel neutral about: the ending. It was fine. I saw a lot of people hating on it but I didn't see the twist coming so that was neat. I also liked the cats. I thought Bee's fainting disorder was a little weirdly portrayed, and felt like another way she was kind of hyper-feminized (she's petite AND she swoons, what is she, a Victorian waif?), but since I don't have this condition, I can't say how accurate it was. I'm also not really sure how I felt about Levi's family being portrayed as this military-obsessed cult, but I guess it makes sense for why he is the way he is. Still weird but I didn't care. Also, that three-page GRE rant was definitely soap-boxing and it felt kind of weird to see it just thrown into this romance novel, like someone trying to reach the word count on a last-minute essay. I'm okay with a little bit of soap-boxing but this felt really preachy and contrived, and I didn't really like that, because the dialogue didn't really fit into the context of what was going on, and therefore felt forced.

In conclusion, I feel like Ali Hazelwood is a perfectly acceptable, perfectly average romance author who seems to get a disproportionate amount of hate for what she sets out to do. I'm not really in love with her writing despite being in the target audiences, and boy, does her self-insert main have a lot of utterly annoying quirks, but as a romance, I've read way worse-- this, at least, didn't leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. It turns out gratuitous cats can buy a lot of goodwill on my end.

That doesn't mean I'm not still picturing Levi as a big tree trunk of a man with hams for hands, though.

 2.5 out of 5 stars

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