"Maybe he’ll murder me down there. I’ll end up dead in a Dumpster. The investigators will see my fishnets and heavy eye makeup and assume I’m a hooker. They’ll follow all the wrong leads. Meanwhile, Joshua will be calmly bleaching all my DNA off his shoes and making himself a sandwich."
- Sally Thorne, The Hating Game
I'd like to announce the obvious: Influencer advertising works!
Thanks to extensive exposure to The Hating Game by Lucy Thorne on bookstagram (mostly rave reviews from Tasha's account) I can now write this review because yes, I caved and got the book. Coincidentally, my friend AMB picked up The Hating Game at around the same time, also because of constant recommendations on bookish social media. I hate to admit how weak I am, but if I hear good reviews of a book and see it on my Insta feed all the time, I'll probably impulse-buy it eventually. Are you the same way? Or do you have more respect for your bank account?
Anyway, the book review. Here's the thing. It requires a disclaimer, and that is: I am not a romance genre fan.
I'd like to be, because I have this fun YouTube channel idea that involves romance book reviews, but try as I might I've come to the conclusion that it's probably just not for me.
Don't get me wrong—I love a good romance. Americanah, The Grisha Trilogy, Scarlet. Romance can make a story all the more sweeter! I just don't like books that fall into the category of The Romance Novel. I always feel like if a book only focuses on romance, it falls a bit flat. Like, don't these characters have anything else going on in their lives? Plus, I feel like there are different expectations with romance novels than there are with other genres in terms of writing quality, tropes, etc.
Then again, maybe I just haven't read enough good romance novels? I don't know.
What I do know is that because of my disinclination towards the genre, I've decided to abstain from giving The Hating Game a starred rating. I just don't know how to fairly rate it.
I'm still going to share my thoughts though, so buckle up.
My first thought about The Hating Game is that if you're a fan of slow-burn, enemies-to-lovers relationships, this book might just be perfect for you. It's light-hearted, simple, and adequately written; it's full of sweet moments, and has all the trappings of a good beach read.
Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.
Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.
We're introduced to our characters through a compilation of opposites: Lucy Hutton is cheery, bright, and quirky; her nemesis and colleague, Joshua Templeman, is cold, calculating, and borderline ascetic in his aesthetic and eating habits. Lucy is tiny; Josh is the size of the Empire State Building. The office loves Lucy; the office fears Josh. What did they say about opposites attracting, again... ?
The book also opens with some heavy set-dressing à la Romeo and Juliet. There's two [publishing] houses, both alike in dignity. Both harbour an undisguised sense of superiority over the other. But that's where it ends, because, as Lucy assures us, Romeo and Juliet are not secret lovers in this book. Instead, they share an open, furious hatred for one another.
Normally I take issue with the enemies-to-lovers trope. Oftentimes it's unconvincingly done, seems unhealthy, and/or the "love" comes across as a flash in the pan, nothing more than the temporary result of two people realizing they don't hate each other (once the burning tension fades away, do our characters really have any chemistry together?).
Thankfully, The Hating Game overcomes this. I won't say how so as to avoid spoilers, but I took this beach read with a grain of salt and felt satisfied with how things worked out.
I'm highlighting my inexperience with the genre once again here, but it's my understanding that one of the purposes of romance novels is a little bit of self-insertion on the reader's part, right? Correct me if I'm wrong. But if I'm not, then let me just say that Josh is not my type. I didn't dislike him, but I couldn't get into him either. He's remarkably tall, buff, and moody. He possesses a cool intelligence and a sharp tongue. His physique is described as Clark Kent-esque, but as far as fictional comparisons go, he was basically an older, less vampire-y Edward Cullen to me.
I like smart, nerdy guys who are considerate of others and like to talk a lot. Outside of that I don’t really have a “type.” To be honest, I don’t really even think about “types” because I feel like you love who you love, and you don’t really know how you’re going to connect with a person until you do. But with this book, I found myself thinking about it, because as a romance novel it focuses a lot on the attractive qualities of the two characters involved. This resulted in me analyzing the characters in relation to myself, and led me to repeatedly think, “yes, okay, I get it Lucy, you think he’s hot because he looks like Superman. Can we move on?”
Also, because Lucy is “only” five feet tall, a big deal is made out of how big and muscular Joshua is. Eventually I felt like their size difference was meant to be a kink, which, to be honest… that's not my kink? Maybe it’s because I’m five feet eight, and my partner is a little over six feet tall, but I didn’t really get what was so great about such a dramatic difference in size. I don’t see it as a bad thing either, but I felt like I was missing something in the story because I didn’t find it crazy-hot.
As far as my feelings towards Lucy go, I also felt like she was similar to Joshua in that she was a character I’d seen many times before. The short, super friendly, quirky girl type. Like Joshua, she didn’t feel unique, like her own person. She felt like a stock character. The more time that’s passed since reading the book a few days ago, the more I feel this way. This didn’t make the book unenjoyable—it was still a lot of fun—but it’s something that was particularly noticeable after reading the phenomenal Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which had incredibly well-developed characters that overcame their unlikeliness to feel seamlessly real.
I'm not sure if I felt critical towards The Hating Game’s characters because they just didn’t click with me, or because the writing was flat. I’ve thought about it for some time now, and I still can’t decide.
If anyone has read the book, I’d love to hear your opinion!
That being said, this is a fun book. And it's a funny. While not all the novel's jokes hit the mark, most of them did, and some of them had me in stitches! There is some truly excellent snark between Lucy and Josh that made the book feel like a treat. In fact, it made we wonder why I don't have a frenemy to viciously bash with savage one-liners. The opportunity! The intellectual satisfaction!
Also, “me-graines” killed me.
The Hating Game is a great vacation read: sweet, clean, and quick, with a satisfying resolution. It's a cute love story, ideal for fans of contemporary romance.
I’d recommend this book to anyone who thinks they'd enjoy all of the above, and anyone who finds themselves tempted to dip their toes into the contemporary romance genre.
How do you feel about romance novels? Have you read The Hating Game? What are your thoughts?
PS: I didn’t include this in the review because I don’t think it’s relevant, but can I just say that I. Hate. Smurfs. I have always disliked them, ever since I was a small child. I tried not to hold Lucy’s Smurf obsession against her, but let me tell you that it was very, very difficult.