Dueling Review, Rant

Dueling Review: Luna and the Lie by Mariana Zapata (2018)

Erin really wanted to rant about this book, but while Ingrid might not enthusiastically recommend it, she isn’t about to agree with Erin that it’s rant-worthy. Clearly, we needed to review this book together. 

Welcome to Dueling Reviews

Moderated by Holly, who had no interest in reading this book but still asked a gazillion questions.

Erin’s Take:

Heat Factor: Not much heat. Mostly yearning.

Character Chemistry: I both like and hate their chemistry at once 

Plot: Luna has a really weird relationship with both of her bosses, but one’s like her dad and the other she has a crush on

Overall: I’ve read this more than once because I really like the idea of it, but every time I get into it I am totally enraged

Ingrid’s Take:

Heat Factor: Zapata starts fires with sticks, really

Character Chemistry: It makes sense. I stand by that.

Plot: Luna spends her life making everyone happy except her boss, Rip

Overall: I mean, it’s a classic Mariana Zapata–so it’s messy, sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t satisfying.

Ingrid, summarize the book IN THREE SENTENCES:

Car painter Luna crushes on her foxy angry boss while hiding details of her traumatic past. Grumpy boss Rip slowly warms to sunshine Luna while hiding secrets of his own. Luna and Rip fall in love while both desperately needing therapy. 

Erin, summarize the book:

Accurate. I have nothing to add to that summary. 

Do you think the age gap is a critical part of the story? Why?

Erin: That is a very good question that I have never considered. I would argue yes. Because Rip clearly has a lot of growing up to do before he could be prepared to be in any kind of healthy relationship with another person. Not that he is all that mature in his 40s. 

Ingrid: But that doesn’t necessarily mean he had to be 41? Could he have done that growth and been 26, or is his age necessary? I asked this question because it’s not like it was ever brought up as being questionable by any of the peripheral characters. 

Erin: It’s interesting that Mr. Cooper (the other owner of the repair shop) thinks it’s totally normal and fine considering the relationship that he has with both Luna and Rip.

Ingrid: I asked because I have a thought about it–I felt like even though the age wasn’t technically relevant to the story at all, it was one thing that Zapata did well from a character development standpoint. As a survivor of childhood abuse, Luna had some arrested development and seems really young. She’s been let down by every adult in her life, and then when Rip lets her down it allows her to have an important breakthrough. 

Erin: The age gap is necessary in this book because it’s part of a power dynamic interplay (he’s her boss, he’s significantly older than her, he calls her “baby girl”) that’s integral to the narrative, but I found this age gap to be squicky.

Ingrid: I agree. But if the age gap hadn’t been there the conflict wouldn’t have hit the same. Personally, I find those power dynamics to be a sign of a less-than-healthy relationship, but in this case it felt more realistic because the nature of her relationship with Rip was something familiar to Luna. I mean, she’s used to her father insulting her, criticizing her, publicly shaming her. Especially in the beginning, but carrying on in various ways throughout the book, Rip technically does the same thing in a lesser form. The difference is that, to her, Rip also protects her and stands by her and says he does these things because he loves her and cares about her. 

Rip is in his early 40s, Luna is in her late 20s, and he’s her boss. She refers to him as “boss” most of the time, even when their relationship starts developing. Do they ever truly overcome the boss/employee power dynamic? 

Ingrid: No, but I think it’s a foundational basis of their relationship. Luna is desperately searching for an anchor and Rip really feels the need to establish himself as an authority in his life. So I don’t think they overcome it because I don’t think they want to – it’s a dynamic they’re comfortable with. Their relationship is based heavily on their needs, and if they overcame this their relationship would change. 

Erin: I don’t disagree with what Ingrid is saying, but does the use of the bedding the boss trope here make for a good romance? MZ writes age gaps most of the time, but in other books there’s an equal partnership established at some point, and that’s not what they have here. They’re not equal partners and they also haven’t negotiated that they don’t want to be equal partners. 

Ingrid: I don’t think that they think they’re not equal. 

Holly: And not everyone reads romances for a perfectly modeled relationship

Erin: The point is: in the context of this particular trope, which includes very specific power dynamic issues, Rip and Luna’s interactions without an explicit acknowledgement of “this works for me,” given their inequality, do not assure the reader that what is happening is okay. They’re not playing the usual boss-employee trope games.

Ingrid: Follow up question. This has a first person narrator. would it have made a difference if Luna had said explicitly that she liked it? Because it was all first person, she was consistently confused about what’s happening, and we don’t really get a clear explanation from Rip until the end. So, there was no indication to the reader that Luna was 100% good with this. It’s like watching your friend getting hit on at the bar – is she into it or should you rescue her?

Erin: Yes, it would have been better if Luna had indicated in her thoughts that she enjoyed what was happening between her and Rip instead of being uncertain and confused all the time.

Is Rip’s monitoring of Luna’s dates sexy? 

Ingrid: It crossed a line for me personally. Him being there at all was overstepping a boundary, but Luna said that he needed to stop and he just blew right past that.

Erin: The fact that he has monitored all of her dates for two years and knew details…

Ingrid: RED FLAG. We’re cushioning the fact that it was flat-out stalking.

Do you think Luna is a reliable narrator as a result of her trauma? If no…is that important?

Erin: I don’t recall specific instances that were directly contradictory within the text. However, as a reader in this woman’s head, I didn’t necessarily trust her judgment or her thought processes. If I were her friend, I would second-guess her, but in terms of narration I didn’t distrust that.

Ingrid: Whenever she’s talking about her own emotional state she’s always like “I’m fine” but she’s not fine. She also spends a ton of time thinking about how to make everyone like her and avoid being a bother. All of that, to me, indicated that she didn’t really have the best self-awareness, so I didn’t trust her thought processes all that much.

Luna seems to feel that she is owed a lot of information. Information about her sisters’ lives and information about Mr. Cooper’s life, yet she does not like to disclose information about her own life. Is she reasonable for having these expectations? I guess the question is: how much information are we owed about the important people in our lives?

Ingrid: I mean, she says that “she doesn’t want to burden people ” even when she’s just asking for basic information. I think it’s a stretch to say she feels owed a lot of information. I think she feels unable to advocate for her own needs in her relationships. She even says flat out that her sisters are filling a hole for her and when she finds out her sisters were calling her dad, she’s sent spinning off because she feels so devalued. 

Erin: She never told her sisters about her experience with her dad, but she felt like she was owed their loyalty to the exclusion of all else without offering (extremely relevant) knowledge that she had. So when he comes out of jail and it seems like he’s turned his life around…It was complicated for me because Luna was terribly abused, but she doesn’t get to parameterize what kinds of relationships people in her family have with each other.

Ingrid: In the epilogue she recognizes that it’s ok if she prioritizes her happiness and lets her sisters figure this out for herself. She’s sad about the new distance, but she gets it. I think she’s in the difficult position of part parent/part sister, so she’s in this really challenging grey area with them.

Erin: She does feel like a nobody to everybody, but also her reactions to unexpected disclosures from the people she cares about (her sisters and Mr. Cooper) demonstrated to me that she felt entitled to the information that they withheld from her. Like it was reinforcement that they didn’t care about her because they didn’t share all of these pieces of information as a demonstration of their loyalty. But she also didn’t want to share her own most private secrets either. 

Ingrid: Well, Erin–she’s traumatized. We’re talking about somebody who has such a low sense of self-esteem that she has to give ten times as much and ask for as little as possible to be worthy of a basic friendship. This is why when she cuts Rip off and he keeps trying and puts in all the energy, it’s so powerful for her. The information thing was like flags for the reader indicating how lonely she was and her feelings of worthlessness when she’s interacting with people who are supposed to love her better.

Do you feel like the characters showed evidence of growth? And does that matter? Do people have to grow for it to be a satisfying romance?

Erin: As we’ve been making all these sweeping statements about what makes a satisfying romance I’ve been trying to think of counterexamples that are still satisfying. 

No, I don’t think that they grow. They found what they needed in the other person as they were revealed to each other without doing any adjusting personally. 

Holly: Isn’t that the fantasy, to find someone who fits you perfectly without you having to change?

Erin: Right, so growth might not be necessary. But from a story construction standpoint, we have to have a problem or a flaw for the characters to overcome. There is a level of fantasy in the idea “I can find a person who accepts me just the way I am”, but that doesn’t account for the expectation of dynamic character development and plot, which adds tension and drama to the story.

Ingrid: The characters have to overcome and develop individually and together in order to achieve their future together. And I think this does work, but the personal growth is suggested in the epilogue. In this case, Luna knows that the situation with their father isn’t resolved but she’s not a mess about it, she’s secure enough to still live with it. That’s growth. In almost every MZ, they overcome the obstacle first, and with the strength they find together they tackle the other stuff.

Is Luna and Rip’s fight reasonable and is the makeup/reconciliation satisfying?

Holly: That’s such an Erin question. No fights are reasonable. 

Erin: I have listened to this book so many times. The idea of it is so attractive to me – age gap, bedding the boss, emotional constipation – but the execution makes me RAGE. 

The hospital scene happens in which Rip made his needs clear, and Luna didn’t respect that multiple times. And Rip is the one to grovel when Luna stops talking to him over it. He should have grovelled for all the other shit he pulled, but this manufactured situation when Luna doesn’t listen to him is the problem.

Ingrid: It’s a real dumb fight. It says so much about these very imperfect, emotional characters and whooo, buddy. If a friend told me that was a fight she had I’d be like “Are you sure you’re not sabotaging this because you don’t actually want to date this guy?”

Holly: Have you guys never had an extremely stupid fight?

Ingrid: So many stupid fights, of course. In this case, I think it’s less about what the fight was and more about it forced Rip into a disclosure – look at it as a tool – Rip hasn’t disclosed anything at this point and he’s been prodded at by Luna. It pushed him to share with her, FINALLY. So it was a fairly effective plot device, but it was difficult to sit through that scene. 

Erin: Sure, it’s an effective tool, but I want the tools to not be so obviously staged or forced. 

Ingrid: It’s a stupid fight but it makes sense – Luna needs to take care of people and Rip needs autonomy. Add heat. Ka-boom.

Closing arguments:

Erin: Look, I’m not saying that the psychology doesn’t make sense. I’m just saying that these protagonists are fantastically immature and there are points when that is really, really obnoxious.

Ingrid: I think if you look too hard, or if you have lived through some of these red flags, this one might not be for you. But if you can kind of suspend your own personal feelings and just enjoy the story, it’s a good one.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

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