Review: Stripped by Zoey Castile (2018)

Happy Endings, Book #1

Heat Factor: It’s a sexy one!

Character Chemistry: They’re totally hot for each other. Possibly to the exclusion of good decision making.

Plot: He’s a stripper and she’s a mess, and her best friend is getting married

Overall: It was light and non-rage-inducing, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if Robyn had ever actually grappled with her feelings about Fallon being a stripper

I have been struggling with characterizations and conflicts in romance lately. Standard texts to Ingrid and Holly include: 

  1. If I read another book with a heroine who gets jealous over the hero talking to another woman, but doesn’t realize that it might be his sister, I am going to SCREAM. 
  2. Enemies to lovers books that don’t include a “what an asshole, but I’m feeling all these tingles!” would be greaaaaaaaat. 
  3. I swear to God, if I never read another book about how someone’s never going to take the risk of loving again, it will be too soon. 

Also common: rage at characters being completely ridiculous.

There was NONE of that in this book. Breath of fresh air. It was, at its heart, a super low key, toasty warm love story. Robyn and Fallon meet cute when their laundry gets mixed up. They’re neighbors. It’s fun!

Also, Fallon is a stripper! And he dropped out of high school! And he’s hired to perform at Robyn’s best friend’s bachelorette! After Robyn tells him that there won’t be any trashy strippers there!

I only wish that Castile had made Robyn grapple a little bit more with her biases against Fallon’s job. All the right elements were there, but for me they really didn’t go quite far enough. For example:

1. After Robyn unwittingly trashes Fallon’s job, he ghosts her. Because who needs that kind of judgment, no matter how hot a woman is? Then, after she realizes her mistake at the bachelorette, she goes to apologize to Fallon while he’s taking his dog out to poop and he winds up accidentally getting dog poo all over her. 

And then she apologizes but tries to excuse it because “she didn’t know,” and when he gives her an idea of what it’s like to be judged based on nothing she snaps at him and tells him that she’s tried to tell him sorry multiple times (it was one time) and then basically accuses him of intentionally throwing dog poo on her, declaring that he’s worse than she is. 

As apologies go, it’s pretty garbage, and Fallon does realize that. But I guess it’s sexy? Because they start making out and decide to date.

2. Robyn winds up seated next to her boss while on a date with Fallon, and she immediately freezes. Her boss, who’s interested in her, winds up giving Fallon the 3rd degree. Fallon becomes increasingly rude in his responses, so Robyn walks out on both of them. Yeah, Fallon’s behavior was immature, but Robyn was embarrassed and fearful that Fallon would confess what his job actually was, which is the really meaty thing. 

Fallon realizes he was an immature jerk. Robyn realizes that her reaction clearly demonstrated that she was still ashamed of Fallon. AND YET they don’t talk for a week, and when they do, she apologizes in one sentence, while Fallon practically grovels about being so immature in response to her boss. 

Robyn really needs to grapple with the fact that her unwillingness to acknowledge Fallon’s value resulted in a situation in which he felt humiliated. Yeah, he needs to take ownership of his feelings. But also his defensive behavior is pretty directly attributable to the fact that she clearly freaks out about the situation in which she finds herself. 

3. Fallon is invited to attend the best friend’s wedding as Robyn’s plus one. Fallon’s excited because he finally feels like she’s being serious about them (more or less), and Robyn’s like, “it’ll be fine.” At no point do they discuss how they’re going to handle the fact that a whole bunch of women at the wedding have seen Fallon getting next to naked at the bachelorette. Also, Fallon is going to meet Robyn’s parents. What could possibly go wrong?

By this point, Fallon and Robyn have realized that they have a relationship that they want to be permanent, and Robyn has been introduced to and accepted by Fallon’s world, his dance troupe, etc. Fallon has not, likewise, been accepted by Robyn’s people. He’s only stripped for the bachelorette party and gone a round of 20 questions with her boss. So when he’s embarrassed at the wedding (through no fault of his own!), Fallon decides everything is wrong and bad and runs.

I won’t get into the guests’ (or Robyn’s parents’) reactions to learning Fallon is a stripper, because where’s the fun in that? But I will say that, once again, Robyn doesn’t have to meaningfully address that she’s dating a stripper or how her feelings about that have changed over time.

In short, I think the pieces were there, but I would have liked to see a little bit more overt consideration of how these two pulled through when dealing with personal and cultural biases. Because the whole schtick with this book is that Fallon’s a stripper. Young women going through a quarter life crisis are a dime a dozen in literature. Male exotic dancers/strippers are not. While it would be great for everybody to simply accept everybody else’s academic and career decisions as equally valid, in reality it’s so uncommon as to be laughable. Meaning that this is a great premise for a romance. 

The other thing that I think it’s important to consider here is this: Is it important to you as a reader for Fallon to continue his job? Fallon’s not some cocky guy. He has plenty of his own insecurities and hangups and personal baggage. But for nearly the entire book, he really loves his job. To a certain extent, he allows Robyn’s insecurities or his interpretation of her actions to fan the flames of his own insecurities, but even when that’s the case, Fallon is still generally happy with where his life has taken him. I’m saying there’s plenty of room for Robyn and Fallon to come out on the other side of this with Fallon still dancing. Of course, from a cultural acceptance standpoint, it’s a little easier if he’s not. What does it say if he doesn’t continue to be a stripper in the end? What does it say if he does? How well does the narrative support the decision he ultimately makes?

If you’re looking for a nice romance that’s got a unique premise and isn’t full of obnoxious characterizations, I truly think this is a fun choice. And I did want that (please see: first paragraph). But I was really hoping for something that would make a statement about valuing people and people’s career choices when there’s a significant cultural bias involved, and maybe I built that up too much in my head, because I didn’t feel I got that. 

Buy Now: Amazon

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