by Cecilia Rabess
out June 6, 2023
Guys, this is not a romance. Romances give you the warm and fuzzies and promise you a happy ending, and you will not get any of that here. Basically, ignore any 1 star review on Goodreads because they haven't read it and seem to be under the impression this is some sort of enemies-to-lovers trope involving racism? Not even close.
This is hardcore literary fiction doing a deep dive into the ways Jess, as a brilliant millennial Black woman in a profession generally dominated by nepo baby white guys, has to continually smooth over uncomfortable situations by convincing herself "everything's fine." We see Jess repeating this line over and over again throughout, soothing herself through situations that are very much NOT fine.
The bulk of the story takes place between about 2013 and ending in January 2017, with some very short flashbacks to earlier events in Jess's life. Jess is a brilliant mathematician who has taken a job at Goldman Sachs. While morally uncomfortable with her role in finance, she persists because she believes that once she has one million dollars she will feel secure. Her closest friends are all from wealthy families and have fun vanity jobs, and at times she expresses discomfort over the fact she has never really had Black friends. She feels that by becoming a millionaire she will finally fit into this wealthy, powerful world she inhabits.
She works with Josh, a white man her age that she knew loosely in college, mostly from situations in which they disagreed over social or political topics. Jess is concerned with systemic racism, and Josh -- described at various points as a social liberal / fiscal conservative, a moderate, or a Republican -- thinks that focusing on racism detracts from bigger issues on economic opportunity. Despite these arguments, they begin to have an uneasy camaraderie, and settle into a (at times contentious) friendship.
There is undoubtedly chemistry and attraction between Jess and Josh, and they fall into a physical relationship that is quickly followed by declarations of love. But didn't I just say this isn't a romance? Well, that's because this is not any sort of relationship I would want to be in, or wish upon anyone else. Aside from being attractive mathematicians, there doesn't seem like much bonding them together and a page rarely passes without Josh or someone close to him doing something to hurt Jess. And the worst part is, he doesn't seem malicious, he seems oblivious to the damage and genuinely seems like he loves her, in his own way, but it is not the kind of love that helps your partner grow and bloom.
This book brings up a lot of probing questions about how we develop our points of view, and to what extent the zip code we grow up in assigns them to us. It also asks us, how much microaggression and discomfort should we be shrugging off on a regular basis? At what point do you declare that everything is NOT fine?
There is some great symbolism throughout the book concerning strawberries, so pay attention (as if the smashed strawberry on the cover didn't give it away!)
I have been reading a lot of horror lately, and to be honest the final part of the book gave me similar feelings. Jess almost rescued herself, but there is no happy ending here.
Man, this was good.