A fairly typical example of chick lit
Reading Level: Adult Romance
Release Date: July 30, 2019
Pages: 352 pages
Publisher: Graydon House
Reviewed By: Kate McMurry
Mel Strickland is a 26-year-old helpdesk tech, with a bachelor’s degree in IT, who is woefully disrespected and underutilized at her job. Her story adventures begin when she’s had one too many bad dates through a ubiquitous dating app, Fluttr, and on an angry whim, she designs an app of her own to expose Fluttr abusers. She names it, JerkAlert, and is utterly shocked when it goes viral.
The publisher of this book, Graydon House Books, is an imprint of Harlequin, which is famous for its over 70 years of publishing romance fiction. Readers might want to be aware, however, that books from this imprint are *not* romance. Per the publisher, they are, “book-club-worthy women’s fiction with strong commercial appeal…. that range in tone from lighthearted humor to emotional tearjerker, edgy suspense to historical drama.” (By “book clubs,” I presume they are referring to Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Clubs.)
Given the Harlequin connection, before reading this book and looking up Graydon, I wrongly assumed that this book is a romance novel. It is not. It is chick lit.
The main focus of a romance novel is on the passionately romantic courtship between two people ranging in age from as low as 15 years old up to as much as 65, though most commonly protagonists are younger than 35. Romance novels are almost always written in the dual point of view of the heroine and hero, and the story concludes with an, ideally, well-earned HEA where the protagonists are in a committed relationship.
In contrast, the focus of chick lit is on the trials and tribulations of a hapless, 20-something woman and is written solely from her first-person point of view. She generally lives in an alienating and overcrowded version of a big city. The main story conflict invariably involves the heroine’s enduring mistreatment at the hands of her (usually male) boss and/or (usually male) coworkers as well as a series of dating disasters. All of which endlessly confirms her depressing opinion that the male portion of the population is filled with callously cruel narcissists–other than a stereotypical, one-dimensional, manic-pixie gay man who is frequently a key member of her colorful coterie of three to four best friends. These friends, including the heroine and the gay friend, are all attractive, intelligent, witty, loyal, and living out a life filled with similar lousy bosses and lousy lovers. The story often involves a strong emphasis on fashion, especially short skirts and stiletto heels for the female characters. Over the course of the novel, the heroine is constantly reaffirmed in the core, chick lit world view, that the true path to happiness in life for a woman lies in having loyal, caring female (or gay male) friends, who can always be counted on to cheer her up, in the midst of regularly sharing with them all her hetero-male troubles, while drunkenly swilling hard liquor.
This book fits very much into the generic formula described above for chick lit. Originally chick lit was primarily comedic, but very soon it branched out into melodrama as well. This novel is much more a case of depressing melodrama than light-hearted comedy. As such, it’s a fairly competent, if extremely predictable, example of chick lit. Its slight, somewhat unique variations on the major components of chick lit are the following:
*Inclusion of the currently hot, feminist topic in young-adult and women’s fiction of a female protagonist pursuing a career in one of the massively male-dominated, STEM occupations. In this case, the heroine is a talented programmer. That’s an admirably challenging career decision. However, the predictably sadsack approach to chick-lit heroines is upheld in this novel by the fact that Mel is underemployed in a dead-end job and consistently treated with insolence by her fellow employees and bosses at her job. Which given how misogynistic IT men often are in real life, is not unbelievable. But this is fiction, and readers hope for much more from a presumably feminist trailblazer of a heroine than her assuming, as Mel does, that she has no choice but to lie down like a rug and let hateful, hetero men walk all over her.
*Mel never wears stilettos, though she does get dressed up in a typical seductive, chick lit way for her second date with the romantic interest.
*The gay best friend in this novel is a woman, not a man. Which means that, basically, there is not a single completely positive male figure in 90% of the scenes in this book, other than some of the scenes with the sometimes positive romantic interest, and several scenes involving a sweet, kind, polite, blue-collar, hetero guy who is the supervisor of the building in which Mel lives.
*The only negative female figure in the book is Mel’s materialistic, social-climbing roommate, who is willing to have sex with the nice-guy super, but considers him too far beneath her socially for him to be a worthy prospect for a committed relationship.
If you are a big fan of melodramatic chick lit, you will probably enjoy this book. If you prefer comedic chick lit, you may not find this book quite as fulfilling. If you are looking for a romance novel, or at the very least, a strong romance subplot, you won’t find that here either.
I rate this book as follows:
Chick Lit Plot: 3
Romance Plot: 3