Genre: Romance, Comedy
Published: Griffin (December 29, 2020)
Print length: 384 pages
Major spoilers: No
What happens when your love life becomes the talk of the town?
As birthdays go, this year’s for radio producer Everly Dean hit rock-bottom.
Worse than the “tonsillectomy birthday.” Worse than the birthday her parents decided to split (the first time). But catching your boyfriend cheating on you with his assistant?
Even clichés sting.
But this is Everly’s year! She won’t let her anxiety hold her back. She’ll pitch her podcast idea to her boss.
There’s just one problem.
Her boss, Chris, is very cute. (Of course). Also, he’s extremely distant (which means he hates her, right? Or is that the anxiety talking)? And, Stacey the DJ didn’t mute the mic during Everly’s rant about Simon the Snake (syn: Cheating Ex).
That’s three problems.
Suddenly, people are lining up to date her, Bachelorette-style, fans are voting (Reminder: never leave house again), and her interest in Chris might be a two-way street. It’s a lot for a woman who could gold medal in people-avoidance. She’s going to have to fake it ‘till she makes it to get through all of this.
Perhaps she’ll make a list: The Ten Rules for Faking It.
Because sometimes making the rules can find you happiness when you least expect it.
ARC provided by publisher
Ten Rules for Faking It by Sophie Sullivan opens with radio producer Everly Dean reeling after learning that her boyfriend Simon is cheating—and on her birthday no less. What follows is a furious rant about his betrayal blasted to an audience of live listeners and all because Everly’s best friend Stacey didn’t mute the mic in time. If this premise sounds flimsy, that’s because it is. That an experienced radio DJ of many years and one who intimately understands the contours of her best friend’s social anxiety would not know to immediately cut Everly off and transition to music before allowing her to vent through her very fresh humiliation seems implausible, if not inconceivably sloppy.
But Ten Rules for Faking It relies on this premise to launch the radio station into a Bachelorette-style dating competition put together by radio supervisor and resident love interest Chris Jansen. I feel comfortable calling him that because it is established practically from the moment that he’s introduced. His most notable feature is that he is infatuated with his employee Everly as soon as we meet him, though he’s been working with her for about a year when the novel opens. Not only does this serve to warp the pacing and evolution of their romance, it also tinges every single action he takes from the onset with strange, borderline creepy undertones.
“She was the toughest woman he’d ever met,” mere minutes in reader time into establishing that Chris is Everly’s boss—in other words, on the first page of chapter three—completely undercuts the power of this statement. The greatest realizations in romance novels are those reached after time and hard work. They are most convincing when the narrative offers a substantial amount of characterization and development to back them up. Outlandishly romantic statements like these from Chris’ chapters come with none of that development or even characterization, effectively rendering them meaningless.
I don’t know what to call this, because it’s technically not insta-love, considering Chris has known Everly for a year now. But we have only known Chris and Everly for two chapters by this point, meaning we’ve had about 30 minutes of insight into their dynamic—less if you’re an especially quick reader—out of the eight hours of reading we’re due to receive from Ten Rules for Faking It.
Let’s call it retroactive love, then. Chris has realized his feelings offscreen before the book even begins—and in fact admits at several points that he liked Everly as soon as he saw her—an absolutely absurd choice when considering the pacing of a romance novel this long. As for Everly? Well, she recognizes that Chris is attractive in vague terms at a couple points, so hey, let’s call it even. Or…”There were plenty more reasons she could think of—he only just started talking to her and acting like she was there.”
…After a year, for no reason other than that she’s become suddenly available in the wake of her cheating ex…?
One of the more recent romcoms I read didn’t introduce the love interest until the third act and this one introduces him from the get-go without ever actually fleshing his feelings out. I’m more than a little mind-boggled, since I feel like it’s generally agreed that hard-fought mutual pining is textbook romance and the genre’s greatest draw. Where is the satisfaction in unearned pining? There is none. All it does is create a tension imbalance between both leads—one that is only exacerbated by the power imbalance of a boss pining after his unwitting employee.
More than that, though, the developmental leaps are rushed, at times outright bewildering. In chapter three, Chris is already looking up Everly’s home address and swinging by with food unannounced. As someone with social anxiety, I cannot imagine ever being okay with that breach of privacy, even after a year of working with someone, particularly a supervisor. But Everly doesn’t blink twice.
I can’t tell you how head-scratching it is to read the words, “His arms itched to wrap her up in a hug, but he wasn’t sure if she’d accept it, if it would be over the line, or if he’d be doing it more for himself,” after knowing a lead and her boss for two and a half chapters. This man is ready to settle down and marry Everly 10% into the book. There is no gradual transition into feelings, no real sense of resistance or responsibility as her supervisor, next to no bargaining or professional guilt. No. In three chapters, he’s holding her hand and calling her “Ev” without warning, after seemingly no signs from Everly that she returns his feelings, something even acknowledged by the narrative itself: “She jolted at the nickname. It’d come out of nowhere and, sadly, felt right.”
This is not to say Chris is written grossly, because he isn’t. Surprisingly, he’s considerate and accommodating throughout the novel. One of the more refreshing parts of Ten Rules for Faking It is how well-attuned he is to Everly and her social anxiety, how that might interfere with her professional needs, what she wants and requires every step of the way—even if it is stretching the limits of my imagination.
Which leads me to my next point. The skewed romantic pacing becomes far weirder when we come to realize that Chris, a recent and even temporary supervisor of only twelve months, seems to know Everly better than her best friend of several years. He even has to lecture stacey on her missteps:
“‘What were you thinking, going live like that? She constantly shies away from being in the limelight, but you thought it’d be a good idea to put her on the radio?'”Ten Rules for Faking It
This becomes a running theme throughout the novel. Stacey the best friend continues to commit wild transgressions as someone we’re to believe knows and understands Everly’s very severe social anxiety. She’s a willing participant in the orchestration of a surprise birthday party for Everly, knowing Everly hates her birthday, surprises, and large social gatherings. You’d think after years of friendship, she’d have a better sense for when Everly needs space, when she has to disengage and get away, when she wants to catch her breath. Instead:
“‘Why is it the people who love you don’t get to have an impact on your actions or how you feel about yourself? You’ll let some creep you dated for five minutes chase you out of a building but won’t take any of us at our word that you deserve better?'”Ten Rules for Faking It
And all because Everly wants to extricate herself from an emotionally draining situation and go home. The guilt-tripping is so strange and out of place, I can’t be sure it doesn’t exist to make Chris seem like more of a hero to Everly. Yet it’s her who’s forced to apologize to Stacey for this hiccup, so it’s hard to really say if the narrative even recognizes how irrationally judgmental it is to blow up at your anxious best friend for trying to escape a distressing situation.
This is not to mention some of the more nit-picky issues I took with the novel. A lot of these little issues I often find myself encountering in the romance genre:
- The minor characters are not just neglected in favor of the leads, they’re near nonexistent, making Chris’ constant spiels about finding a family with the staff at his station and Everly’s excitement over new friendships hard to believe:
- “It made her realize she didn’t really know the people she worked with. Jane was much less reserved with her girlfriend around, Luke was far more affectionate with his wife than she would have expected of the gruff and tough janitor, and Mari was far less serious.” …Did you not just say the same thing in three different ways while telling us virtually nothing about these people?
- Dialogue without any substance / dialogue that uses repeating phrases verbatim across characters.
- Language that tends towards the generic or eyebrow-raising (“…She was like invisible lighting.”—huh?).
If it seems like I glossed over the Bachelorette competition, that’s because it had little to no actual presence or bearing on the plot. Instead, it was a device designed to—apparently?—raise the stakes for Chris and Everly, though even that is a stretch.
To conclude, Chris and his brothers’ angsty rich boy problems weren’t compelling, nor was the idea of his family monopolizing communication companies. His sister getting stuck with a few passing mentions that wrote her off as a ditzy airhead with no talent seemed to check out when set against the maybe two lines the only two gay (in this case, lesbian) characters in the book got. Oh, and as far as I can tell everyone was wealthy and white.
It’s so frustrating that this book laid out so many interesting concepts and then did nothing with them. I can’t help but imagine how much more satisfying the premise of Ten Rules for Faking It would have been had the book opened with a Chris who was struggling to find his footing at the station and establish rapport with his employees as a recent company implant, someone who initially took the work for granted and was then forced to reckon with the fact that real people exist within the companies his father likes to buy up, if maybe he and Everly didn’t start developing feelings until the dating competition began and he was forced to get to know her and her romantic interests—and then readers could watch Everly’s reluctance and Chris’ jealousy develop and grow as she went on more and more dates.
Instead, Chris was near-perfect in the narrative’s eyes and never had to truly struggle to get where he needed to be. In that sense, I suppose he perfectly represented the rich white heterosexual male reaping the rewards of his father’s nepotism. Of the two, Everly was definitely more compelling, and I liked seeing someone with social anxiety navigate dating, even if it was at times poorly executed.
Overall, I don’t have too many positive things to say about Ten Rules for Faking It, aside from the fact that a small iOS voice to text dictation mishap in the middle of the novel made me briefly chuckle at one point. I did appreciate the presence of and discussions around mental illness, establishing boundaries with overbearing parents, and grappling with unhealthy relationships, even if this book wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea.