I'm a fan of the fake-dating trope, but this is the first time I've seen a reverse fake-dating story! This book has such delicious tropes, including forced proximity, and features an older heroine (Shay is 29) and younger man (Dominic is 24). The relationship builds really beautifully - they start off disliking each other and finding each other really annoying, but as they're forced to work together and spend time together they find a grudging respect that builds to camaraderie and reluctant attraction. Even though Shay can't see it, it's clear to the reader how much both parties are fighting their feelings. The slow-burn build-up is absolutely delicious, and when they finally do come together it's hot as hell. I appreciated the explicit inclusion of enthusiastic consent throughout, as well as discussion of contraception.
Beyond the main relationships, there's a whole lot more that makes this book worthwhile. Shay is Jewish and Dominic has Korean heritage, and I enjoyed seeing their cultures and families on the page. Shay's father died during her teenage years, and that grief is something that she carries with her. How we deal with grief over time, and love after loss, are so beautifully handled. As much as I was glad for a mask while listening to the steamy scenes on the train, I was glad for it during chapters that more directly addressed that grief, which brought me to tears. It's something that had wider impact throughout the story, as we also see how Shay's mother dealt with it. There are themes of how family changes over time, with Shay's mum's new relationship (she proposes to her boyfriend!! Bonus points for having a woman propose!). The book also addresses how friendships grow and change over time, the loneliness and confusion of becoming an adult and finding your footing, and questioning and discovering your own personal and professional interests. It shows how pervasive and subversive sexism in the workplace can be, and the importance of women supporting women.
I borrowed the audiobook from the library and ended up buying the ebook. The audio performance is so moving! The performer does an incredible job, especially in highly emotional scenes where she really captured the depth of all the feelings coming to the fore. I definitely recommend listening to the audiobook if you have that option.
This was such a touching, evocative read, with an ending that hit all the right notes while leaving some things satisfyingly open to growth for the characters. Relationship Goals, indeed!
CW: long-term grief, workplace sexism
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