Dueling Review, Rant

Dueling Review: I’m So (Not) Over You by Kosoko Jackson (2022)

Holly’s Take

Heat Factor: The first kiss happened around halfway, and then I called it quits.

Character Chemistry: Textbook definition of a toxic relationship.

Plot: Hudson bribes Kian into doing a fake relationship with him by promising an introduction to a guy who can get Kian his dream job.

Overall: DNF at the halfway point.

Ingrid’s Take

Heat Factor: I mean, it was nice and steamy. 

Character Chemistry: I could see the chemistry but there were so many aspects that didn’t seem to get worked out, that I didn’t necessarily buy in all the way.

Plot: Kian agrees to pretend to be Hudson’s boyfriend again despite his better judgment so that Hudson can get Kian a job that is supposed to launch his journalism career.

Overall: I ended up with very mixed feelings about this one.

Erin’s Take

Heat Factor: They have very playful sex.

Character Chemistry: Horny, not healthy.

Plot: Hudson inexplicably dumped Kian three months ago, but now he’s back asking Kian to fake being his boyfriend again because he never got around to telling his parents they broke up.

Overall: This should have been a 300 page grovel and IT WAS NOT.

What’s one key piece of information you think a reader should know before getting I’m So (Not) Over You?

Erin: The voice of this book is great, and it does some really interesting things playing with ideas and tropes because the heroes are Black and queer. Basically all the non-romance aspects of this book are engaging. However. The romance was underdeveloped because many questions about why they should or wanted to be together never got answered.

Holly: I couldn’t buy that Hudson was a good partner or even a good person. However, Kian seemed to think that Hudson was, in fact, a good person. So there was no room for growth. This disconnect was enough to kill the romance for me.

Ingrid: I really felt like Kian is a jerk. He “calls it like it is” but he’s actually just rude and presumptuous.

Did this story work for you as a fake relationship?

H: On the Twitter, I’ve been talking to people about fake relationships, and Maria DeBlassie brought up that she likes it because there’s no pretense between the protagonists. 

They’re pretending for everyone else, but there’s space between them that, because the relationship doesn’t matter, they can radically be themselves. And that is not the case at all in this book. Kian is doing a fake relationship with Hudson under duress, and Hudson refuses to be honest with Kian about his motives or what’s going on. This dishonesty starts right from the start: in the first 10% of the book Hudson says, “Come to dinner with me because you’re the one thing my family thinks I did right.” And then, in the next scene Hudson takes Kian to buy clothes, which implies that Kian isn’t approved of by his family. And Hudson is not clear about what Kian is needed for or what the parameters are. 

I: To make it work they need to confide in each other and sell it physically, so them working out the details of faking it builds intimacy. I was so busy catching all these “well wait a sec” moments, I was distracted from it.

E: I agree with all of that. The lack of clarity going into the relationship was also a struggle for me. But I was distracted by the second chance component more, so I felt like the fake relationship was the sled we were riding on, simply the impetus for starting the book.

Did this story work for you as a second chance?

E: I have many thoughts on this as a second chance romance. The primary thought is that I think for a second chance to be successful, the reader must be confident that whatever the reason was that the relationship failed before must no longer be a problem by the end of the book. The problem with the second chance in this book is that we never got a clear understanding of why they broke up in the first place. It boils down to, Hudson dumped him, and that was a surprise to Kian, and then there were a lot of remembrances of them fighting. 

I: The part where they directly address why they broke up, it’s like one paragraph, but I think it both supports and refutes what you’re saying because it’s very clear that over a period of time Kian was getting more and more critical and bringing up more and more comments about Hudson’s family and his refusal to live the way Kian thought he should. So that was it, there’s your reason. The fact that it was vague, to Kian, was the surprise. But the fact that it’s a second chance romance means that it can’t just be “Oh, he hurt me.” It has to be “He hurt me, and this is why we broke up, and this is why we can’t get back together.” Because if you’re going to get back together with someone, you need to know the problem is fixed. But they never had a conversation about it.

E: They never had a conversation about it, and that’s what it is for me. They never had a clear conversation about the breakup early on. Like Kian never said, “This came out of left field, what happened?” Or at the very least it was never clearly explained to the reader. Our faith in the success of the relationship is about them overcoming the problem. And if they never even state the problem and agree to work on it or apologize for it, but rather just get horny and declare they never stopped loving each other so everything’s fine again… that doesn’t work, especially with the way the black moment went. 

I: This book is framed as Kian is the one who’s vulnerable, and he’s the one who needs the trust to be rebuilt. I was so surprised that Kian sees the evidence of Hudson’s growth in the epilogue. I’ve never seen a book end and the vulnerable party hasn’t seen any evidence to support the second chance.

E: The only way this book works is if Hudson spends the entire book groveling and that so did not happen at all.

H: The fact that every single person in Kian’s life is telling him to run, that this is a bad idea, is maybe an indicator that these guys are not a good second chance relationship. And it’s not just his friend who had to scrape him up off the floor after his meltdown after their breakup. His mom, who presumably wasn’t there during the post-breakup, also says, “Don’t go to Georgia, this is a bad idea.” Like, if everyone in your life is telling you this is a bad idea, then it’s a bad idea.

I: If the black moment had been handled better, it could have worked. Hudson could have taken responsibility for some blame, Kian’s bad behaviors could have been called out as part of the reason he and Hudson broke up, and that could have pulled everything together.

E: That ties into the POV, because we get nothing from Hudson.

Was this story well served by being single POV? 

H: We talked about POV recently and how a single POV book makes for an opaque love interest, but if the love interest has already broken your heart once and has therefore proven himself untrustworthy in the relationship, then having him be opaque maybe doesn’t make for a good romance.

E: That is exactly what I wanted to say. That is exactly the problem here. It’s compounded by the fact that we’re not getting conversations where Hudson is making his thoughts and feelings known. Holly, you’ve pointed out in the past that the love interest is usually being clear either with words or actions, so the reader is able to interpret their feelings and intentions, but the fact that Hudson routinely refuses to share information about what’s going on does not serve him, so he is more opaque than he should be, on top of the fact that we should be seeing more from him period because we’re seeing them try to repair a relationship that has already fallen apart. 

I: I will say that because of the quippy commentary and the salty friendship dynamics, I did see some comparison to Alexis Hall, and I do find it interesting that we had the same discussion about single POV about his books as well. This is the difference that I’m seeing: In Glitterland, the more closed-off person was the narrator, so we get more out of it. In this book, the more closed-off person is the non-POV protagonist. The GlitterPirate was so effusive and heart on his sleeve that the love is transparent; in this case, Kian is the one who is more open about how he’s feeling.

E: He is more open just because we’re in his head? Kian is not necessarily a reliable narrator, in that he’s clearly not always being a good guy, but he’s also not self-aware about his faults, rudeness, or other bad behaviors. He also isn’t particularly straight with Hudson about where he stands in the relationship and what he wants. He MAY be more open than Hudson, but not so much so that if the POV was flipped we would have gotten significantly more information.

Did you get the sense that Kian was pining for Hudson because they had an awesome relationship? Is there text evidence to support your argument?

E: All the good memories are about sex and all the other memories are of them fighting. I didn’t understand why Kian was pining, other than that he though Hudson was sexy. Not that those feelings aren’t valid, but I got no evidence that there was anything good about this relationship.

I: The only anecdotal moment I can recall is when Kian looked back to when Hudson bought the brownstone and they got to play “Mr. Haberdashery.” But even that’s tainted because Kian is dripping with contempt about how Hudson bought the house because his parents paid for it. So it’s like, “Oh, we broke up because Hudson wouldn’t split off from his family.” But it sounds like they were just really immature and unwilling to have serious conversations, which doesn’t really get resolved until the epilogue.

H: It seems like Kian found Hudson desirable because everyone found Hudson desirable because of who he is, and so therefore Kian found Hudson desirable. I didn’t even see any evidence of why Kian was attracted to Hudson beyond his jaw and his money, which Kian both likes and dislikes.

E: Hudson does have a Southern Gentleman Charm persona, but we don’t really see it until they’re down in Georgia.

I: I think a lot of the charm comes after you finished reading, Holly. The first interaction that they have where Kian is seeing Hudson’s appeal is when they go to the first party and Hudson is sitting singing with the little kids and then ends up standing up for Kian with the homophobic lady. But that’s not anecdotal, that’s new—it’s the development of the renewed relationship.

This book is marketed as a rom-com. Evidence:

Do you think it works as a rom-com?

E: Is my expectation for rom-com just not right? Because I thought the voice was playful and I did laugh…once. Maybe a couple times. But I don’t think I would have categorized this as a rom-com? Are my expectations just wrong?

I: I get stressed out by books where supposed friends are hypercritical of each other, and I don’t feel comfortable with it, to be honest. And that is the kind of humor that this book seemed to have. Very Mean Girls, which I did like—I just also felt very uncomfortable.

E: Just because there’s banter doesn’t mean it’s a rom-com.

I: There’s different kinds of humor. There’s situational humor, there are jokes, there’s voice humor. This book, there are funny bits, but the only funny bits are between Kian and Divya. I like situational humor and fart jokes, and there aren’t too many fart jokes in romance novels.

H: I mean, I didn’t think it was funny. I was too busy being stressed out about their relationship. And actually, here’s the thing: for it to be a rom-com, there has to be humor between the love interests. In this case, all the humor was in the voice. And his interactions with Hudson were just incredibly stressful to read about, so there wasn’t any balance there. 

Even in really voicey rom-coms, there’s usually some amount of banter between the love interests and in situations they find themselves in, and I didn’t find that here. Do they ever have fun with each other?

E: When they finally fall into bed they do. The sex was very playful. But that was only one scene.

I: The reason I could see that people would market this as a rom-com is that I saw a lot of things I would consider inside jokes, but I wasn’t in on them, so it wasn’t funny to me. I’m thinking of the part where they’re playful about bed, and Kian says, “You can sleep in the same bed with me.” And then Hudson says, “Say it slower,” so Kian does and Hudson pretends to have an orgasm. It was funny to them but it just didn’t strike me as a funny moment. I just felt like an outsider to the humor.

Final Thoughts:

I: Despite my critiques, there were a TON of things to like about this book—it provoked thought, was very visually rich, and the steamy scenes were very nicely done. As a genre romance, it just had some holes and glitches.

H: If Erin hadn’t texted me about how angry she was at the end of the book, I may have powered through despite my dislike of Hudson (maybe he would get it together!), but I am just not in a space where I want to rage-read a genre romance.

E: This is a romance blog, so our discussion is heavy on the romance aspect of it, and clearly we had some feelings about how that turned out. That said, the discussions of wealth, class, and race, the social situations, and the voice of the narrator were so engaging. And it made me have big feelings, which is something.

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

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