Rant, Review

Review: Safety in Numbers by Sophie Penhaligon (2022)

Heat Factor: It’s a medium roast

Character Chemistry: They click pretty much instantly but I’m not sure it’s much of a chemical reaction for the reader.

Plot: Seraphina has a TBI and a lot of baggage. Milo is a CEO/Scientist man who is not very nice and evidently very lonely. They fall in love.

Overall: if you saw the gossip columns featuring Elon Musk and Grimes, and you were like, “that’s so hot”, you will probably like this book. Or if you love a really paternalistic hero.


…and I stand by that. 

In a nutshell, when the book opens, we find Seraphina in a very fragile place, recovering from a tragic accident that left her with a traumatic brain injury. She interviews for a job she’s qualified for, but because of her disability she struggles answering questions and ends up getting a lower level position in development. Milo (CEO/whiz), desperate for a qualified research assistant who can tolerate him, has HR draft up a list of qualified internal hires and ends up with one candidate—Seraphina. The next phase is essentially them being in love, programming robots and doing whatever you do with  algorithms, and Seraphina coming out of her shell. Then she has a breakdown at a company event. But it’s fine, she just needs to apologize for handling a stressful moment poorly and see how other people with TBIs have it a lot worse. (No sarcasm—that’s the gist.)

So, here’s what I liked about the book—it’s not often you see a character with a TBI! That was amazing. If you like a really truly paternalistic hero, you might really like it. 

Here’s the thing though—from a personal preference standpoint, their relationship (especially in the beginning) weirded me out a bit. This is a very accomplished woman who has a disability and yet she’s infantilized AND sexualized at the same. She’s depicted as looking REALLY young and defenseless. He gets a boner when she’s dressed like an undergrad.  The first time they have sex, she pads into his room in the middle of the night and it reads exactly how a child would come into their parent’s room. (Obviously she’s waxed bare.)  When he draws a bath for her, he tells her he’ll get in with her because he doesn’t want her to drown. He thinks it’s cute when she struggles to find her words (because of her TBI) like she’s some kind of toddler. On the flip side, he does encourage her to take small risks and open up her world. He’s patient with her and values her keen mind.  So, absolutely there are readers who will enjoy that dynamic—and if you just isolated a few small things it would be no big deal at all—but I didn’t love the way they interacted. 

Here’s the other thing: I had a HUGE issue with how the mental health professionals she turned to when she broke down treated her. The therapist (who apparently deals with her patients with “tough love”) actually says:

“Yes, Milo. Poor guy. He’s already been on the phone with Robbie this morning. You’re a lucky girl. A lot of men would have just given up on you, pulling a stunt like that.”

You mean getting overwhelmed by the umpteenth new, intense experience since she met her new boyfriend, coming face to face with her fears, and having a breakdown? Yes, that kind of “stunt”.

The therapist is married to the clinician who cared for Seraphina after her injury, and my jaw dropped at this exchange:

“There’s my girl,” he said affectionately, stepping forward to kiss me on the cheek. “How are you feeling this morning, poppet?”

Molly was bustling around at the stovetop. “Now don’t you go indulging her, Robbie. She and I have to have a serious talk today.”

Um…about how you’re worried about her and want to check in on how she’s dealing with everything? And there won’t be shame right? Right?? 

Nope. When Milo comes to see Seraphina, her care team spills all her personal information because HIPAA doesn’t exist in this book, and then Robbie the clinician says, 

“The fact that you knew about her brain injury and yet still fell for her was huge, and I think you can help her with the next steps, too.”

I love seeing characters with disabilities featured, but when they’re treated the way Seraphina was treated, it really reads like they’re fetishizing and infantilizing her instead of treating her like a whole human being who is adapting because her body doesn’t work the same way it used to. 

By the end, Milo seems to have really stepped up as her partner and supporter, and while I could see there was a lot of effort put in to show how Seraphina evolved, it was hard to see that past all the other issues.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.


Buy Now: Amazon


Looking for something similar?

Characters with disabilities

Paternalism!

For that extra Elon Musk vibe, have some more billionaires

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