Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4)
As a sucker for any academic/grad school settings, I was right on board when I found The Love Hypothesis. It has just the right amount of trope mixed with refreshing and clever dialogue to keep me sucked in.
Olive Smith is a 25-year-old PhD student who's never really been interested in dating. She goes out here and there, mostly at the behest of her friends, but never feels much of anything for anyone. But when her best friend, Anh, starts crushing on her most recent date, Olive is determined to prove that she won't get her feelings hurt if Anh acts on her feelings.
As a scientist, Olive knows Anh won't believe her until she proves she's not at all interested in the guy, so she tells Anh that she's got another date lined up already. Her plan is working... until Anh walks into the lab when Olive is supposed to be out on her date.
In a slap-dash attempt not to be caught in her lie, Olive ducks into the hall and kisses the first guy who walks by. Just when he starts to kiss her back, Olive realizes who she's kissing. Adam Carlsen. Harsh, arrogant, Professor Adam Carlsen.
I found Olive's character refreshing, because she's not your boy-crazy, looking-for-love main character, and she's not cynical or against it. She's simply not interested and has never found someone who makes her attracted to them. Throughout the course of The Love Hypothesis, Olive begins to better understand her sexuality... sliding on the spectrum from asexual to demi-sexual as she gets to know Adam. This is something not really seen in romance novels, and as someone who can relate across the board, I really enjoyed seeing Olive's thought processes, discovery, on the page.
The best part of the novel - for me - was the banter between Adam and Olive. They are both inherently their own personalities, and it's really funny and clever when the two clash or come together. There wasn't a single moment in the book where it felt like a stretch or a struggle to have theses characters interact. With two characters who are both invested in their own lives, it was a quiet, subtle sort of "courtship," with neither one really needing to force themself into the other's life as they built a friendship.
I really enjoyed Adam overall. He's a quieter character. More brooding and quiet confidence than shy, but he was well-nuanced, and we really got to understand his mindset and what makes him act how he does. He's not a jerk to be a jerk, and at the heart of it, he's trying to do what's best for his students.
He's reserved, but a star in his field. He's someone who excels but stays humble. He's the same way with Olive. Even though he's older, more accomplished, and more experienced, he never lauds that over Olive. He never uses his position to get ahead or take more than she's willing to give. Normally, I'm all over cocky male characters, but there's something so redeeming about Adam and the softness he shows with (and for) Olive. Even when his more outspoken side comes out *ahem* in the bedroom... he's still simping for Olive, completely undone by Olive.
There were a couple things I thought were a bit odd or could've made the book stronger. The first (and most important in my opinion) is that, while the characters do acknowledge that Adam is a professor and Olive is a grad student, all the talk about it is oh he's an asshole! Not, he's a professor?? What were you thinking?? No one really seems to think it's weird that they're dating, even with the power imbalance. When it is mentioned, it's more so that people are upset that Olive's choosing rude Prof. Carlsen over them.
As someone who was a grad student myself and who taught undergraduates, you are literally told "don't date your students." It's said kind of with a laugh like I know we shouldn't even have to tell you this since it's so obvious but don't date your students. When it did come up, it was Adam simply "checking" with the Dean behind the scenes, telling Olive it's fine, and the two of them moving on.
I will say, later on there was a lot of talk about what people would think of Olive for dating someone who's career is so much farther along than hers, but nothing about how it would make Adam look to date a student. I realize the book wouldn't have worked if them dating was very taboo, but I feel like there could've been a much better workaround than simply pretending it wasn't a problem.
The other issue was that a lot of the moments I wanted to see happened behind the scenes, such as Adam talking to the dean about the relationship, the confrontation at the end of the book (no spoilers), the subplots/romances of the other characters...
So much happens with the other characters in this book, but we don't get to see any of it. It makes it all just seem too convenient. Of course we can't have entire secondary plots in the novel, but there were plenty of moments to set the scene and then let the characters run wild off the page. But there's really no build up to what's happening with the other characters. We simply learn about it after the fact.
The end especially felt a little too neatly wrapped up. We just kind of glide past some of the biggest, most important moments, and I felt like Olive didn't get the due she deserved. She wasn't able to speak for herself in the moments that mattered. Adam neatly handled everything off the page and the rest was alluded to happening sometime in the future (in between the end of the book and the epilogue). There were a lot of pivotal moments that were underwhelming because of this, and I really felt unsatisfied at the end. I was confused because I love what was there on the page, but it felt like I missed out on what wasn't (but should've been).
Ultimately, I really enjoyed The Love Hypothesis, but the ending felt rushed and underwhelming because of it. I really wanted to keep living in Olive and Adam's academic world after I'd finished the last page both because I needed more and wanted more.
This was a really solid debut novel for Ali Hazelwood, and it's one I'll definitely read again.